The New York State Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) has issued yet another version of proposed boundaries for the New York State Assembly, which restores the lines of the districts representing Lower Manhattan to almost exactly where they were before the process began.
For more than a decade, Lower Manhattan straddled two Assembly districts. Southern Battery Park City, the Financial District, the South Street Seaport, and much of the Lower East Side fell within the 65th District. Northern Battery Park City, Tribeca, Soho, and part of the West Village comprised the 66th District.
This began to change as the results of the 2020 Census (which triggered a legally required redistricting process) started to trickle in. Early tabulations showed that for all of Manhattan, population growth had been sufficient to warrant greater representation in the Assembly, but not enough to justify one whole new seat. (Assembly districts in New York State have an average population of around 130,000 seats, and Manhattan’s population swelled by slightly less than 110,000 during the decade preceding 2020.) This fraction-of-a-seat gain meant that some community in Manhattan would need to reach across water and share an Assembly representative with neighborhoods in another borough.
But the IRC deadlocked last February on how to redraw lines for all three sets of districts it was supposed to oversee: the State Assembly, the State Senate, and the U.S. Congress. This led to leaders of the Assembly and Senate to take matters into their own hands and draw the new district lines themselves.
Under longstanding Albany tradition, incumbents in the majority party (both houses of the State legislature are controlled by Democrats) who are also seeking reelection can be reasonably confident that redistricting will not seriously disrupt their prospects. But the Assembly member representing Lower Manhattan since 2017, Yuh-Line Niou, had already announced that she would be challenging State Senator Brian Kavanagh for his seat. (She later dropped that campaign to seek a newly created Congressional seat representing Lower Manhattan, a race that was ultimately won by Dan Goldman.)
Because there was no incumbent seeking the Assembly seat for the 65th District, it effectively became fair game for the Assembly leadership, as they sought to find a Manhattan community that could be joined to one in another borough. The result they settled on was that part of Lower Manhattan (essentially Battery Park City and the western half of the Financial District) would be grafted onto the north shore of Staten Island.
It was against this backdrop that State legislative leaders also drafted new maps for the rest of the Assembly, as well as for the State Senate and U.S. Congress. In a result that surprised almost nobody, the new boundaries they formulated were widely perceived to favor Democrats. This led Republic activists to file suit, alleging that the new maps violated a State constitutional ban on partisan redistricting. A succession of courts found in favor of the Republican plaintiffs, which led to the maps devised by the legislature being thrown out and, in the case of the Senate and Congressional districts, being drawn yet again by a court-appointed “Special Master.” This resulted in Senate and Congressional primary elections, originally scheduled for June, being delayed to late August.
But the court’s final ruling that the State Assembly districts were similarly invalid came only days before the June primary, which left no time to do anything but proceed with the election for members of the lower house of the State legislature.
After the primary, the previously deadlocked IRC resumed working on district maps for the Assembly. Last Thursday, they released the results of this effort. For Downtown residents, the upshot (see map above) will be a radical change from June, but almost no change from the prior 10 years. Battery Park City and the western Financial District are once again severed from Staten Island, and reconnected to Lower Manhattan. Battery Park City, briefly united as a single community for the June primary, is once more cleaved into northern and southern sections—with the former subsumed into Tribeca and SoHo, while the latter is joined to the Financial District, the South Street Seaport, and the Lower East Side.
The maps circulated by the IRC are not yet final, and may yet be subject to further court challenges. Observers say it is likely that Charles Fall, the Staten Islander who won the general election on November 8 to represent Battery Park City and part of the Financial District in the State Assembly, will remain in his seat for the duration of his two-year term. But if the maps become official, the new lines will represent a continuation of the status quo ante, arrived at only after nearly of a year of litigation, political horse trading, and the spending of untold millions of public dollars, along with general electoral chaos.