Congressman Maurice Hinchey has represented Binghamton in the U.S. House of Representatives for the past 20 years. He was elected in 1993 to represent New York State’s 26th district — which included the lower half of Broome County — and continued to serve the area after redistricting after the 2000 census shifted Binghamton into the 22nd district.
In January, Hinchey announced that he will not be seeking re-election in this year’s Democratic primary.
His plan to step down from his Congressional seat falls during a turbulent time in the New York political process.
Every 10 years, each state is required by law to redraw both its congressional and state-legislative district lines based on data collected by the U.S. Census — New York is among one of the last states to submit a plan.
Due to a relative slowdown in population growth compared to other states, New York will lose two of its 29 present congressional seats, bringing it to 27 seats.
Both state Democrats and Republicans agreed on the elimination of Congressman Hinchey’s seat and the redistribution of regions encompassed in the 22nd Congressional District. However, parties were unable to agree on where the new lines should be drawn, according to a report in The New York Times.
As a result of the conflict, a task force composed of a panel of 10 federal judges has been assigned to fairly redraw congressional district lines. Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann has been appointed as the committee’s “special master,” and is responsible for drawing up a non-partisan map of her own, according to the Times.
Mann will review proposals submitted by legislative conferences and members of the public to make an official ruling on new district lines by Monday, March 12.
Currently, the 22nd Congressional District stretches from Ithaca, through Binghamton, to areas of the Hudson Valley. Lawmakers plan to divide the district, which may result in a district that no longer encompasses the Southern Tier — and that many fear will be gerrymandered for partisan advantage.
Gerrymandering, according to Michael McDonald, a BU political science professor, is a constitutional violation.
“To most people, gerrymandering is the purposeful manipulation of district boundaries for one party to gain a political advantage,” McDonald said. “From my perspective, it is merely a set of boundaries that grant partisan advantages.”
The shape of districts and whether they are “compact” around the district’s center are factors that are often used to determine if a district has been gerrymandered, according to John McNulty, assistant political science professor. This means that an ideal district could appear on a map as a “perfect shape,” McNulty said.
McDonald said he thinks the shape of a district is no longer a sufficient means of drawing district lines.
“We need to get past that and talk about function, not shape,” McDonald said.
McDonald projects that with Hinchey’s open seat, the legislature will now have a “freer hand” in constructing district lines and they will be drawn without protest from Congressman Hinchey.
Gerrymandering is also criticized for favoring incumbents who already hold seats in either the Senate or the House of Representatives, according to McDonald.
“We need another standard for evaluating a plan other than shape or whether or not incumbents are protected,” McDonald said. “This is not a fair way to figure out whether some partisan advantage has been taken or not.”
Communications Director Mike Morosi from Hinchey’s Washington, D.C. office said redistricting will always be a political process.
“The drawing of lines for the congressional districts or legislative districts is an inherently political process — whenever you draw political lines there are political effects,” Morosi said. “So even if you are to utilize non-partisan groups to draw lines, there would still be political effects. It’s hard to de-politicize a process that is inherently political.”
According to a report in the Press & Sun-Bulletin, state policymakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have discussed implementing a new redistricting process that would “drastically alter New York’s redistricting process.” However, the alternative method of drawing district lines would not entirely remove the legislature from the process.
So far, six candidates have filed to run for Congressman Hinchey’s seat in the House of Representatives, including Dan Lamb, Hinchey’s senior aide of 14 years.
Lamb said he is passionate about the projects he has worked on under Hinchey’s supervision.
“I believe there is a tremendous opportunity to do big things in the office of the House of Representatives to assist the community, to help them through difficult times and to respond to constituent services and needs,” Lamb said.
Lamb said he will adapt to the changes brought on by the remapping.
“I’m a little frustrated with how long it is taking the map to be finalized,” Lamb said. “I can run strong with whatever is created but I hope it includes the central Southern Tier of New York, because I feel particularly attached and aware in terms of the issues facing this region.”
Former federal prosecutor Julian Schriebman and New York City-based attorney Leslie Danks Burke will also run for Hinchey’s seat as Democrats. There are also reports indicating that Sean Patrick Maloney, former aide to Gov. Eliot Spitzer, will be announcing his candidacy sometime in the next few weeks.
On the Republican front, George Phillips of Endwell is vying for the seat. Phillips lost twice to Hinchey in prior congressional elections. Former assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Engel, a part-time resident of Ulster County, will also compete in the Republican primary.
Phillips, who is an American history teacher at Seton Catholic Central, issued a statement regarding the redistricting. His statement was sent via email to supporters subscribing to his campaign website.
“We are saddened to see that all versions released eliminated the district we have been so honored to run in that has existed for almost 40 years,” Phillips said.