By Paul Hicks
After population and demographic data from the 2020 census were released last August, states and local governments began the once-a-decade process of redistricting. When new voting district boundaries are drawn primarily to influence who gets elected, it is called “gerrymandering”. The term is named after Albert Gerry, who approved the practice as governor of Massachusetts in 1810.
New York State’s Governor Hochul recently approved the Democratic-controlled legislature’s proposed congressional districts over strong Republican claims of gerrymandering. An article in The New York Times determined that these New York boundaries would give Democrats an advantage in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts.
At the time of the national election in 2020, the City of Rye was within New York’s 16th congressional district, which included the northern Bronx and the southern half of Westchester County. The previous representative, Eliot Engel, held the seat from 2010 to 2020. However, he lost the Democratic nomination that year to Jamaal Bowman, a progressive, who was elected as District representative in 2020.
What is happening to Rye’s future congressional representation is potentially even more problematic than in the recent past. Rye and other Westchester communities along Long Island Sound are being moved to New York’s third congressional district, which includes part of Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk counties, as well as a portion of the Bronx and Queens.
The third congressional district is currently represented by Democrat Tom Suozzi. However, Suozzi, a resident of Glen Cove on Long Island, is not running for re-election to that seat, because he is running against Kathy Hochul for Governor. Therefore, there will be a primary election in June among multiple Democrats to determine who will contest the Republican nominee for Suozzi’s seat in Congress.
During the twentieth century, many of Rye’s congressional representatives were residents of Westchester. Among them was Rye’s own native son, Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright, who was elected in 1921 and served five terms. Caroline O’Day, also a Rye resident, was elected to an “at-large” seat in Congress in 1934 and served from 1935 to 1943.
More recently, Richard Ottinger, a resident of Mamaroneck, was elected in 1964 and reelected twice more in the 24th District. After a loss, he was again elected from the 20th District in 1974 and reelected to the four succeeding Congresses, before retiring in 1985.
There are ten announced candidates running in the June 28 primary for the Democratic nomination to win the third district election in November. Only Alessandra Biaggi, a progressive New York State Senator from Pelham, is a resident of Westchester. It has been reported that more than 60 percent of the population in the third congressional district is located on Long Island.
According to Larry Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies, Biaggi’s success depends on her “ability to sell her progressive voting record in Albany to moderate voters… It is a wide-open race.”
In view of the many questions caused by this redistricting, both the primary and general elections are of great importance to residents of Rye and other Sound Shore communities.