Governor Kathy Hochul downplays defeat at New York Court of Appeals

Governor Kathy Hochul put a happy spin Thursday on a massive defeat at the state’s highest court the day before that endangers Democrats’ ability to protect their slim majority in the US House and a supermajority in the state Senate.

“It’s always expected that no matter what the lines look like, they enter the legal process. And then there’s a timeframe that’s involved. And then there’s a resolution and we have that resolution at this time. So this is not unexpected,” she told reporters in Yonkers of the court decision upending campaigning for the June primaries.

The Court of Appeals struck down the so-called “Hochul-mander” and ordered that party contests for Congress and the state Senate be moved to August. State lawmakers could, in theory, move statewide offices like governor, Assembly and other posts to August as well, an idea that Hochul declined to explicitly support Thursday. 

“We are still processing, this case just came down,” Hochul said Thursday. “There’s time to look at all the options, find out what’s best for the voters.”

The State Independent Redistricting Commission released the Democrats’ proposed map.
Redistricting Partners

Hochul added that she does not yet know how the redistricting decision might help her dump disgraced ex-Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin as her running mate if all primary elections are moved to August. 

Conversations with lawmakers are “ongoing” about getting him off the ballot through the legislative process, according to Hochul, though lawmakers are still largely giving her the cold shoulder in a situation one Assembly Democrat likened to a “clusterf–k” situation.   

State Senate Elections Committee Chair Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) and Assembly Election Law Chair Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn) did not respond to a request for comment about what legislative action, if any, might happen to move the primary following the ruling. 

Jonathan Cervas, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, is the court-appointed special master in charge of creating new maps expected on May 20. 

Republicans have expressed optimism about Cervas’ neutrality in drawing lines more favorable to the GOP compared to the voided versions that could have helped Democrats win several more seats in Congress and the state Senate in November. 

Democrats drew new maps for the Assembly, state Senate and Congress after the Independent Redistricting Commission, established by a 2014 amendment to the state Constitution, failed to deliver a single set of proposed maps to the Legislature, which previously rejected competing maps supported by commissioners respectively appointed by Democrats and Republicans. 

Governor Kathy Hochul
Hochul had announced last year her plans to help Democrats gain partisan advantage through redistricting.
Darren McGee- Office of Governor

Hochul notably said after taking power last year that she planned on using her gubernatorial power to help Democrats gain partisan advantage through redistricting. 

“Yes. I am also the leader of the New York State Democratic Party. I embrace that,” she told The New York Times. A spokesperson confirmed that position to the magazine City & State.  

Hochul on Thursday pointed to litigation challenges redistricting in other states while downplaying the importance of the Court of Appeals decision that takes redistricting out of the hands of Albany Democrats, who leaned on their supermajorities in both chambers to get the voided maps approved. 

NYS senator Zellnor Myrie.
State Senate Elections Committee Chair Zellnor Myrie speaks on gun violence.
Paul Martinka

Maps for the Assembly will not be affected because they were not challenged in court by the GOP. 

Congressional redistricting ended up in the courts ten years ago after the Democratic-controlled Assembly and the GOP-controlled state Senate failed to strike a deal. 

This year, courts have struck down gerrymandered maps in other states like North Carolina, which resulted in MAGA-superstar Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R- North Carolina) having to drop plans to run in a super-red district rather than the one he currently represents. 

The US Supreme Court effectively ruled in 2019 that partisan gerrymandering is legal as long as states do not infringe on the ability of minority groups in so-called communities of interest. But the 2014 state constitutional amendment approved by voters bars partisan gerrymandering in New York.

Republicans are now pushing back at Hochul’s suggestions that defeat at the Court of Appeals was no big deal.

“The BS meter on this one is off the charts. She said it herself she had every intention of gerrymandering,” GOP state Party Chair Nick Langworthy said in a statement following her Yonkers’ appearance. “It was an illegal power grab and the highest court with a 6-1 Democrat bench slapped her down. Her pattern of underestimating New Yorkers’ intelligence is wearing thin.”