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‘Mondaire, We Hardly Knew Ye’

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May 22, 2022

By Barrett Seaman—

This story has been updated as of May 24, 2:30 p.m.

After two years of political wrangling over the disposition of New York State’s political districts, a court-appointed Special Master, Jonathan Cervas, late last week settled the matter with a configuration that displeased Democrats but at least decided something so that political candidates could get on with the business of running for office. As it turns out, a lot of them will be running.

The original redistricted map, created by the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission, headed by Irvington attorney David Imamura, would have favored Democrats in 22 of the state’s Congressional Districts, though as Imamura would argue, reflected the will of thousands of voters who weighed in on the process. The new map, however, would give Democrats an advantage in one fewer district—but has made several of them distinctly more competitive.

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The new borders affecting the rivertowns and much of Westchester County will alter the political landscape for three incumbent Democrat Representatives:

Jamaal Bowman, representing the 16th District, which includes Hastings and points south;

Mondaire Jones, who won the 17th District after besting a field of a dozen primary challengers in 2020;

Sean Patrick Maloney in the 18th, which includes Putnam County and areas on the west side of the Hudson that lean conservative.

In the new configuration, some of the more moderate-leaning areas in the 18th are now in the 17th. Maloney’s announcement right out of the gate that he would run in the reconfigured 17th forced the hand of Mondaire Jones, who had to decide whether to stay and fight it out with another fellow Democrat in his old (albeit now less liberal-leaning) district or move down to run in the 16th against Bowman, whose progressive credentials are on a par with his own—or try something completely different.

Jones chose option three: “To help secure our Democratic House majority, I have decided to avoid a brutal primary with another sitting member of Congress and run for another term in Congress in NY-10, an open seat in a newly created district,” the first-year incumbent wrote supporters over the weekend.

It should be noted that candidates for Congress, while required to be residents of the state, do not have to live within the District they espouse to represent.

Jones, who in less than two years in Washington has vaulted into a leadership position with the progressive wing of the caucus and continued to raise money at a prodigious pace, contends that the new District 10 is an ideal fit for him. “It is the birthplace of the LGBTQ+ rights movement,” says the first openly gay African-American member of Congress. “Since long before the Stonewall Uprising, queer people of color have sought refuge within its borders.” With or without Jones, the new Tenth seems destined to elect a Democrat from a host of potential candidates representing various factions of the party’s left wing, among them former NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio.

But what about his old constituents? Part of them, those south of the Mario M.  Cuomo Bridge, are now in the 16th District. As of this writing, the registered Democrats there are looking at either their first-term incumbent, Jamaal Bowman, or Vedat Gashi, a Yorktown-based member of the Westchester Board of Legislators, who tweeted over the weekend that he is in the race. Both are appropriately progressive for the district, but Bowman, who has aligned himself with “The Squad” in supporting legislation in Washington deemed by some as pro-Palestinian, may be vulnerable in parts of the District that are heavily Jewish. Ironically, Gashi is Muslim. He has, on the other hand, also raised a lot of money for a County Legislator.

In the new 17th, which starts at the bridge and moves north and west, Biden voters in the 2020 presidential race had half the advantage they had in the old 17th—but still an advantage. Here, Republicans have a better shot of flipping the District, depending, of course, on who their candidate is.

The new 17th Congressional District

Until this week, only Jack Schrepel was listed as a candidate on the GOP and Conservative Party tickets, but now State Assemblyman Mike Lawler, a former associate of Rob Astorino, has announced his bid for the Republican nomination.

Progressive Democrats are angered by Maloney’s grab for the 17th when he already held down a seat for the party in the neighboring 18th District. It didn’t take long for one of them, State Senator Alessandra Biaggi of Pelham, to announce her plans to primary Maloney. Biaggi, at 36 almost as young as Mondaire Jones, established her credibility back in 2018, when she unseated Jeffrey Klein, leader off the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a breakaway faction that voted with Republicans in Albany. Before her announcement to challenge Maloney, she was already gearing up to run for the party’s nomination in the 3rd Congressional District, which is on Long Island.

Rivertown voters can be forgiven for being confused by the political menu before them. Delays in settling the district map have led to delays in deadlines for submitting petitions, as well as a split between primaries for State Assembly and Governor, which are scheduled for June 23rd, and State Senate and Congressional seats, set for August 23rd. That on top of a game of musical chairs featuring candidates can leave voters wondering by whom and for how long they are represented. Dan Weinfeld, a Democratic district leader in Hartsdale and an astute observer of the process, notes that in the two years he has lived in his current house, he has had three different Congressional representatives: “Nita Lowey was my Congress member through December 2020, then Mondaire starting Jan 2021, and now somebody else starting January 2023.”

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