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Jeffries Battles New York District Maps: ‘Enough to Make Jim Crow Blush’

Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the second-highest-ranking black lawmaker in Congress, has launched an aggressive effort to discredit a proposed Congressional map that would divide New York’s historically black neighborhoods, likening its configurations to Jim Crow tactics.

Mr Jeffries is spending tens of thousands of dollars on digital advertising in a scorched earth campaign to try to stop New York courts from making the new map final with no changes later this week.

As interpreted, the map would divide Bedford-Stuyvesant in central Brooklyn into two districts and Co-Op City in the Bronx into three, for example, while placing black incumbents in the same districts – changes that, according to Mr. Jeffries, violates the State Constitution.

“We find ourselves in a moment where everyone is on deck,” Mr. Jeffries, a Democrat from Brooklyn, said in an interview Thursday. In the most recent announcement, he says the changes have taken “a hammer blow in black neighborhoods. It’s enough to make Jim Crow blush.

Mr. Jeffries may be laying the groundwork for a possible legal challenge, but his most immediate goal was to pressure Jonathan R. Cervas, the New York court-appointed special master, to he is altering the Congressional and state Senate maps he first proposed on Monday before he presents the final plans to a state court judge for approval on Friday.

The stakes could hardly be higher. After New York’s highest court struck down pro-Democrat maps drawn by the state legislature as unconstitutional last month, judges handed near-total power to Mr. Cervas, a Carnegie Mellon postdoctoral fellow, to establish lines that will govern elections for a decade. to come.

Mr. Cervas’ initial proposal unrolled a map gerrymandered by the Democratic-led state legislature, creating new pickup opportunities for Republicans. But it also dramatically altered the shapes of New York’s neighborhoods – carefully drawn a decade earlier by another court – which reflected a patchwork of racial, geographic and economic divides.

Mr. Jeffries was far from alone in bringing in last-minute appeals. The court was inundated with hundreds of comments suggesting revisions from Democrats and Republicans — party lawyers pushing for lines more politically favorable to an analysis of the differences between Jewish families on the east and west sides of Manhattan.

A broad coalition of public interest and minority advocacy groups told Mr. Cervas this week that his changes would risk diluting the power of historically marginalized communities. They included Common Cause New York and the United Map Coalition, an influential group of Latino, Black and Asian legal groups.

The proposed map would divide Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and Brownsville — culturally significant black communities in Brooklyn — into the 8th and 9th congressional districts. Each district currently reports to one or the other.

The Northeast Bronx, another predominantly black area that includes Co-Op City and is part of Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s district, would be split into three different districts.

And the groups have identified similar concerns about Mr. Cervas’ proposal to split Manhattan’s Chinatown and Sunset Park, which are home to large Asian American populations, into two districts for the first time in decades.

Most of the changes are likely to have little impact on the partisan makeup of the districts, which are safely Democratic. But Lurie Daniel Favors, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, said cutting into existing communities would further dilute the political power of historically marginalized groups.

“Now when Bedford-Stuyvesant wants to organize and petition at the congressional level, they have to split their efforts and go to two separate representatives,” she said.

The cards would also push four of the state’s seven black representatives into two districts, forcing them to compete or run in a district where they don’t live. Under the special master plan, Mr. Jeffries and Rep. Yvette Clark would live in the same central Brooklyn neighborhood, and Mr. Bowman and Mondaire Jones would reside in the same Westchester County seat.

“It’s another slap in the face for black people,” said Mr. Bowman, whose district would see its voting-age black population drop from about 30% to 21% according to the new maps.

Mr. Cervas did not explain why he drew the lines the way he did. He declined to comment on the cards on Thursday, but said his team was “reviewing every comment submitted to the court.”

The amended language in the New York Constitution in 2014 presents mapmakers with a set of competing guidelines. He says districts cannot be drawn to discourage competition or favor a particular candidate or party. It also asks line designers to “consider maintaining existing neighborhood cores” and “communities of interest.”

Democrats like Mr. Jeffries pointed to those guidelines Thursday, saying that in an effort to bolster the competitiveness of seats statewide, Mr. Cervas cut out the cores of certain existing districts or communities of interest. Public interest and civil rights groups were exploring the possibility of legally challenging the maps if the final versions did not address their concerns.

“We stand ready to do whatever is necessary under the law to right the harm that has been done to communities of color,” Jeffries said.

But legal experts said it could be difficult to convince a judge given the conflicting requirements of the Constitution.

“What they’re arguing is a reasonable outcome, but I don’t know if where the special master is isn’t also a reasonable choice,” said Michael Li, senior attorney for the democracy program at Brennan. Center for Justice.

“I’m not sure anyone has so far given clear legal grounds” to prove otherwise, he added.

Republicans who challenged the Democratic Congressional maps broadly opposed the changes in Brooklyn and the Bronx in their own letter to the court Thursday night. They complained that Mr. Cervas did not go far enough in unfolding the Democrats’ bid to gerrymander, arguing that he produced a map of Congress that still leans too far to the left.

Meanwhile, new court cases continue to arise from the New York redistricting saga.

The League of Women Voters of New York State filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday night to delay the June 28 primaries for governor and other state offices and reopen the process for petition based on newly drawn congressional districts. This would allow new candidates to join the Democratic and Republican primary fields, and one plaintiff in the lawsuit specifically mentions one possibility: former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.


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