Wonky Wednesday: Redistricting in Onondaga County Congress & NY Senate

Welcome back to #wonkywednesday. Each week I take a deep dive into the election and registration data that makes up Onondaga County. Every ten years we change the shape of our districts that represent us on the US Congressional, NYS Senate, and NY Assembly lines. After the failure of the NYS “Independent” Redistricting Commission to draw a consensus map prompted the NYS legislature to take over the redistricting process this week. With Democrats having two-thirds control of each chamber and the Governor’s mansion this is the first time in several generations that they exhibit total control over the redistricting process. This week I am investigating the changes in the Congressional and New York State Senate districts coming to our home.

Since 2014 our county has been represented by John Katko (R) in the 24th Congressional district. This district was seen as one of the top swing districts across the country as the district was tilting Democrat registration wise and before Katko the district had changed parties in four straight cycles. In the new district now labeled #ny22 the heavily GOP Wayne County and Oswego County portions were removed along with the north half of Cayuga Count. In its place was portions of Seneca, Schuyler, Ontario, Tompkins, Cortland, and Madison Counties. The new district unites many of the cities of Central New York including Syracuse, Oneida, Auburn, Geneva, Cortland, and Ithaca.

The new #NY22 is demonstrably more Democratic than the previous incarnation. John Katko was able to buck the voter registration and performance of this district winning by 5.3 points in 2018 and 10.1 points in 2020. This is despite Joe Boden winning the old #ny24 by 9.2 points. Democrats get a significant gain in the new district though. If the 2020 election were held in the new district Biden would have won, it by 18.6 points. Past performance is not indicative of future election results but comparing the same election does give us a sense of how this district swung to the Democrats during redistricting. Katko has decided not to seek another term which will put the GOP at even more of a disadvantage as he was able to really outperform other GOP candidates because of his perceived moderation.

Onondaga County gained a new Senate district during redistricting moving from 2 to 3 Senate districts inside its borders. The 47th Senate District represented by Senator Richard Griffo’s (R) district used to wind north from Oneida through Lewis and into St. Lawrence to the border with Canada. In the new district Griffo loses the lower half of Oneida and the City of Utica as well as the Lewis and St. Lawrence counties and stretches West into Oswego County to pick up both Lysander and Cicero in Onondaga, two of the more GOP friendly towns in Onondaga County as well as the most northern part of Madison County. It is a less compact district than before, as CUNY lowered its compactness score from 43.7 to 35.1.

This district was drawn in 2012 to be a heavy GOP district and nothing is more evident than Senator Griffo never faced opposition in two heavily Democratic years in 2018 and 2020. In fact, despite Biden doing tremendously well in New York in 2020, he performed miserably in the old #SD47 losing it 17.6 points. The redrawing of this district did not help Democrats at all. The addition of reliably GOP towns of Lysander and Cicero in Onondaga County as well as Oswego County made this a more GOP friendly district. Trump would have won the new district in 2020 by 19.4 points. It is a more compact district than before with CUNY rating it at 33.3 on compactness as opposed to 16.6 before.

Senator John Mannion is the current Senator in the #SD50 district. This district drawn specifically for former Senators DeFrancisco and Antonacci has the Northeastern portion of Cayuga county with a portion of the City of Auburn along with most of the Towns of Onondaga County circling the City of Syracuse from Clay circling counterclockwise around to Dewitt and Manlius. It plunges into the Northside of Syracuse just enough to get DeFrancisco’s old house on the North side. The new district loses the towns of Ira, Cato, and Brutus in Cayuga and picks up the entire City of Auburn and Town of Owasco. In Onondaga County it loses the towns of Lysander, Spafford, Otisco, and Onondaga but gains the Town of Salina as well as the entire North side and Tipp Hill and Strathmore sections of the City of Syracuse.

In general, this district lost GOP friendly rural territory and replaced it with more friendly urban and suburban districts. In 2018 John Mannion lost this district by 1.9 points to Senator Antonacci. In 2020 with Antonacci having moved to a judgeship, he won a hotly contested race by five points. He did underperform Biden by eight points who won this district by thirteen points. The new district would perform better adding 4.6 points to Biden if he were to run in it in 2020. There is a slight increase in compactness in the new district moving from 17.9 to 18.2.

Finally, we come to Rachel May’s (D) Senate district. Senator May won this district in a surprise upset in a primary against long time Senator Dave Valesky (D-IDC) in the anti IDC wave of 2018 that brought united Democratic government to New York. The #sd53 was comprised of Cicero and Salina, most of the City of Syracuse, and the SE corner of towns in Onondaga County as well as all of Madison County and two towns in Oneida. The new district Loses Cicero and Salina, the northwest corner of Syracuse and northern most portion of Madison. It adds Otisco and Spafford and stretches south to the City of Cortland in Cortland County and Northeast through Oneida into the City of Utica. The defining feature of this new district is it contains well over a dozen institutes of higher learning in this newly formed district for the former college professor.

Senator May’s district got a little worse for her in performance by the metrics and it could be that NYS Dems have looked to her past performance and banking on that strength in the new district. May won by 13.8 points in 2018 and 10.1 points in 2020. Biden won her district by 18.6 points in 2020 and would have won the new district by 16.8 points. While this is a small decrease it does not seem to change the nature of this district as a solidly blue district. It did get slightly more compact going from 17.9 rating to 18.2.

One last note is that while most of these districts are becoming more Democratic, that is not in and of itself evidence of a Democratic Gerrymander. In Congress New York lost a seat in the Census going from 27 to 26 seats. This along with the shifting of population downstate has made upstate a subject of a redrawing of districts. Though we are not losing a seat in the Senate the same downstate trends are affecting the Senate as traditional underrepresentation of NYC by the GOP is reversed by Democrats along with the significant downstate population growth versus upstate loss. Finally, New York, including upstate, has gotten more Democratic over the last ten years. This is a pro-Democrat drawn redistricting in New York, but many factors are contributing to this not just the makeup of the legislature. wing the maps.  Next week we are onto the Assembly maps, stay tuned.

P.S. A big shoutout to The Graduate Center at CUNY professor Steven Romalewski and his team for putting together an amazing resource to quickly analyze these changes.  Our Biden ratings and Compactness scores were found there. Go to newyork.redistrictingandyou.org and explore your Congressional, Assembly and Senate maps.

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