New York gets a new congressional map that gives Democrats a slight edge in fight for House

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FILE - A maintenance worker cleans a sign outside the New York state Capitol as Assembly members return Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. The New York state Legislature on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, approved a Democrat-drawn congressional map that gives the party a modest boost in a few battleground districts, helping their candidates in a heavily contested election year when House races in the state could determine control of Congress. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. – New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a new Democrat-drawn congressional map on Wednesday that gives the party a modest boost in a few battleground districts, helping their candidates in a heavily contested election year when House races in the state could determine control of Congress.

Hochul, a Democrat, approved the bill hours after lawmakers in the Democrat-dominated statehouse passed the measure with some Republican support, capping days of redistricting drama in the Legislature.

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The lines are similar to both the existing congressional map and a proposal drawn by the state's bipartisan redistricting commission, yet appeared far from the aggressive partisan gerrymander many expected after Democrats took control of the redistricting process earlier this week.

The biggest adjustments came in a small handful of suburban districts — areas important to the party’s plans for winning back a House majority.

The map could help Democrats hold on to a seat on Long Island that Democrat Tom Suozzi won in a special election this month, and it folds a couple left-leaning cities into a central New York district held by a Republican, potentially helping a Democrat in that race.

Democrats also reversed proposed changes from the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission that would have helped incumbent Republican Rep. Marc Molinaro retain his Hudson Valley district, instead drawing lines that could make the race there more competitive.

The changes, though seemingly minor, could have a big impact in the fight for control of the House, where Republicans are trying to hold on to a threadbare majority and both parties move to pick up seats through similar redistricting battles elsewhere.

U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat leading the party's effort to retake House seats in New York, said the map “delivers the type of fair representation that the people of New York State deserve.”

Republicans have threatened to bring a legal challenge against any map they feel violates New York's prohibition on drawing lines that benefit one party over another. It is unclear if at least some Republicans would proceed with a lawsuit, but former Republican congressman John Faso, who advised the GOP on redistricting lawsuits in New York, said he doesn't think the new map makes enough changes to the existing lines to warrant a legal challenge.

“Since there's no material changes, there's no reason to bring up a lawsuit,” Faso said.

Still, Democrats, wary of another protracted court fight over congressional boundaries, fast-tracked a separate bill that would limit where redistricting cases can be filed, a move to keep such suits from landing in front of conservative judges.

The Democrats' restrained approach to mapmaking this week came as a surprise. The party tried in 2022 to jam through an aggressive partisan gerrymander that was tossed out by the state's highest court, leading to a court-appointed expert having to draw up the state's lines.

Republicans flipped seats in the New York suburbs under those congressional lines and won a narrow House majority. After the election, Democrats sued to throw out the map, with courts ordering the state's bipartisan redistricting commission to draw new districts.

The commission came up with lines that looked much like the state's 2022 boundaries. But then Democrats in the statehouse rejected that proposal and drew their own districts, which were signed into law by Hochul.

“There's no doubt in my mind that Democrats feel that this map is better for Democrats, but I know I've spoken with many of my members in Congress who do think this is not a terrible map for Republicans,” State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt told reporters.