It happened because New York Democrats flew too close to the sun. Or, no, it was because Republicans did some savvy judge shopping. Maybe just a simple matter of politicians’ lust for power?
Whichever piece of the messy, protracted, flat-out failure of Democratic redistricting in New York was the most powerful catalyst, its end result is unambiguous: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), powerful chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has booted Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), equally powerful chair of the House Oversight Committee, from the chamber. Both serving since 1992, once friends, the two were thrust into the same district thanks to the disastrous redistricting process and reacted about as neighborly as two gorillas fighting over a particularly fecund stretch of forest.
The Associated Press called the race within an hour of polls closing Tuesday night. With an estimated 59 percent of the vote tallied, Nadler had 56 percent to Maloney’s 24.
Early this year, Democratic lawmakers in New York crafted a fairly aggressive gerrymander, aiming to scoop up a few more seats in one of the rare states where Democrats maintain the power to redraw district lines to their advantage.
For their legal challenge, Republicans selected a judge likely to be sympathetic to their cause, nestled in very rural, very Republican Steuben County. Judge Patrick McAllister acquiesced and tossed the map. An appeals court in Rochester, considered a friendlier venue for the Democrats, upheld McAllister’s decision on the congressional map, though hemmed in some of the more sweeping parts of his ruling.
While Democrats may have hoped for salvation at the highest court in the state, none was forthcoming. A special master was assigned to draw a new map. Incumbents were flung together, ethnic enclaves slashed and split — New York, to Democrats’ enduring chagrin, became one of the very few states to become more competitive after this redistricting cycle.
All of which brings us back to Nadler v. Maloney — whose election was held at the sleepy end of August instead of June alongside the gubernatorial primaries as planned. Sitting comfortably side by side for years, both representing wealthy districts, the two were suddenly facing mortal combat. After a reported tepid and unsuccessful attempt to talk each other out of running in the new 12th district on the House floor, the knives came out.
Maloney, though a year older than Nadler, painted him as aging too rapidly to competently represent the district. Nadler whacked Maloney — who has a very similar voting record to his — on old positions like her support of the Iraq War, calling her “gullible.”
Suraj Patel, a lawyer and former Obama campaign staffer who came within four percent of unseating Maloney in 2020, presented himself as a fresh-faced alternative to the bickering septuagenarians.
Towards the end of the race, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Congress’ most influential New Yorker, surprised observers by throwing his weight behind Nadler (many other high profile Empire Staters stayed out of it). The New York Times’ editorial board gave Nadler the nod as well.
In the end, Nadler triumphed. But he’ll have to wash the mud out of his suit before he returns to Congress.