How New York's messy congressional primaries are bringing intra-party 'wounds' to the fore

How New York's messy congressional primaries are bringing intra-party 'wounds' to the fore
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York.Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
  • New York's congressional primaries have turned chaotic after a redistricting debacle.
  • Originally slated for June 28, they'll now take place on August 23.

A redistricting debacle and long-standing intra-party squabbles have upended New York's congressional primaries, which were supposed to take place on June 28.

Before a state judge tossed out the maps drawn up by the Democratic-majority legislature, incumbent Democrats were running for reelection in the new versions of their district with minimal problems, despite the Empire State losing a seat due to population loss in the 2020 Census.

The original map could have added as many as three more Democratic-held seats to New York's already deep blue congressional delegation, but the reworked map — drawn by court-appointed special master Jonathan Cervas, a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University — drastically altered the landscape.

With the new date scheduled for August 23, candidates have shuffled around and some sleepy races have turned into hotly contested primaries.

Perhaps most unusually, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the House Democrats' midterm election leader and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is in one of them. Tasked with helping Democrats win as many seats as possible at the helm of the fundraising group, Maloney finding himself in a competitive primary race is not ideal for the DCCC.


Here are three Democratic primaries to keep an eye on in New York, with both national dynamics and unique local ones at play.

NY-10: Bill de Blasio and way too many candidates

How New York's messy congressional primaries are bringing intra-party 'wounds' to the fore
Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.Jason Mendez/Getty Images

Based on the number of candidates alone, the open primary for the newly drawn 10th district, which stretches from lower Manhattan into Brooklyn, could be one of the most hectic midterm contests.

Currently Rep. Jerry Nadler's district, the new version barely resembles the one Nadler came to know. Instead of stretching down the West Side of Manhattan and narrowly into Brooklyn's coastal neighborhoods before jetting across into the more central neighborhoods of Borough Park and Kensington, the new boundaries run from about 18th Street in Manhattan through all of downtown and the Financial District, forming a bloc over the northern and western neighborhoods of Brooklyn that runs inland as far as Park Slope and Borough Park.

While the field started out small with candidates such as New York State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, it has quickly ballooned to 17 contenders.

Steven Greenberg, a top New York pollster with Siena College, described NY-10 as one of the "premier districts" on the new map.


"You're going to see as high — if not higher — turnout than you'll see in June," Greenberg told Insider about the race. "I don't have a crystal ball, but my guess is it will probably be higher in August."

The amount of money that will pour into the race with plenty of runway through a summer of campaigning "is likely to goose turnout," Greenberg added.

Beyond the fundraising side of the race, the new boundaries have brought with them a new set of key endorsements. One of the most highly coveted ones came from Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who endorsed New York City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera. Rivera, whose Lower East Side council district overlaps with the new congressional one, told Insider how de Blasio's tenure as mayor has informed her candidacy and work on the 51-member council.

"What I've learned is that the hallmark of a great administration — the legacy that I hope to leave behind from what I've learned in watching others in the executive branch — is that communication and effective management should be a priority when you are running a city, or when you are serving people," Rivera told Insider. "Constituents have to be your first priority."

De Blasio, just one of the 17 candidates running for Nadler's vacated seat, only polled at 7% in an early poll from Emerson College despite his sky-high name recognition, and did not respond to Insider's request for comment for this story.


Other candidates in the sprawling field including Rep. Mondaire Jones — from the previous version of the 17th district to the north in Rockland and Westchester Counties — along with the House Democrats' former Trump impeachment lawyer Daniel Goldman and former Congresswoman and Democratic Senate nominee Elizabeth Holtzman, can be found on Ballotpedia.

NY-12: Carolyn Maloney v. Jerry Nadler v. Suraj Patel

How New York's messy congressional primaries are bringing intra-party 'wounds' to the fore
Democratic Reps. Jerry Nadler, left, and Carolyn Maloney of New York.Win McNamee/Getty Images

When Cervas drew the new 12th congressional district, he did something that was a third rail in New York politics — he created an east-west boundary that spanned from the Upper West Side through Central Park to the Upper East Side, a merging of the two neighborhoods that has never been done before.

For generations, the UWS and UES have both had their own members of Congress, but Cervas said the neighborhoods are no longer distinct enough to necessitate separate representatives.

"The areas of the city bordering on opposite sides of Central Park do not appear to be as strongly distinguished in terms of economic and demographic differences as they once were," the map maker explained in a court document outlining his reasoning.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has served in the House since 1992 and represents the 10th district, which spans from the bustling blocks of Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side through Chelsea and Lower Manhattan to several of the most Jewish-heavy areas of Brooklyn.


Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the chairwoman of the Oversight Committee, joined the House in 1993 and represents the current-day 12th congressional district, anchored on the Upper East Side, the tiny slice of Manhattan once referred to as the "Silk Stocking" district. The boundaries currently include the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn and parts of western Queens.

While Maloney and Nadler have coexisted for decades with Central Park as a buffer, they both quickly pledged to run for reelection in the 12th after the new maps were released, with Maloney currently representing nearly 60 percent of the new district, according to The New York Times.

The new district is filled with neighborhoods that have long histories of robust civic engagement.

"One would expect in Manhattan that you are going to have a very high — by primary standards — turnout in this featured matchup of Nadler v. Maloney," Greenberg said.

Nadler, the last remaining Jewish member of Congress representing a New York City congressional district, said he would campaign on his role as judiciary chair during the impeachment proceedings of former President Donald Trump. And Maloney, for her part, promised to highlight her vote against the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration (which Nadler supported) and the New York-centric issues that have been investigated through her oversight leadership role.


Suraj Patel, a 38-year-old attorney who narrowly lost to Maloney in the 2020 Democratic primary, is also making a bid in the race and arguing that he represents generational change in contrast to two entrenched incumbents.

NY-17: Sean Patrick Maloney v. Alessandra Biaggi

How New York's messy congressional primaries are bringing intra-party 'wounds' to the fore
From left: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney.Kevin Dietsch, Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency, and Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

When Sean Patrick Maloney joined the House in 2013, the Hudson Valley congressman was seen as a rising star in the party.

Representing the 18th district, Maloney was the first openly gay member to represent New York State in Congress.

Last year, he took on the task of running the House Democratic campaign arm for the upcoming midterms. But this year has seen his fortunes shift dramatically. After the congressional maps approved by the legislature were invalidated in May, Maloney quickly jumped into the race for the seat in the neighboring 17th district, anchored by Westchester County, a northern suburb of New York City.

The dilemma?


Maloney jumped into a district that was largely represented by fellow Democrat Mondaire Jones, who in turn opted to run in the 10th congressional district anchored in Lower Manhattan and a swath of Brooklyn.

When Maloney decided to run in the new district, he didn't give Jones a heads up, upsetting progressives who felt that Maloney should have stayed in the slightly more competitive 18th district, which includes many of the same Hudson Valley communities as the previous version of his district, but not his home in Cold Spring.

Voters in the new districts both supported President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, but the 17th district backed the Democratic commander-in-chief by 10.1 points, versus his 8.5-point spread in the 18th.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who in May called on Maloney to resign as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee if he ran in a primary against Jones, soon endorsed a challenger to Maloney — state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi.

Biaggi, a 36-year-old political scion who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester, will now go up against Maloney, who is tasked with leading the Democratic party's effort to save its razor-thin House majority in what is poised to be a favorable election cycle for the GOP.


While this may be among the higher profile ideological faceoffs — between an establishment figure like Maloney and an AOC-endorsed challenger like Biaggi — across the Democratic primary slate this cycle, Greenberg pointed out that the establishment and progressive factions have been in fierce competition in New York in recent elections.

"We've seen it now going on, this is the third or fourth cycle," Greenberg said. "So there is that squabble going on within the Democratic party ... whether we had reapportionment or not, whether we ran this year under the lines we've been running on in the last decade, you'd still see a lot of those intra-party squabbles. I think there's no question though that reapportionment brought some of those wounds more public."

With so many incumbents shuffling around, the likes of Nadler, Jones, and both Maloneys are facing much different reelection campaigns than the ones they thought they signed up for, and some new faces could pop up in the Empire State's congressional delegation by November.