After nearly a decade of representing adjacent Brooklyn communities in Congress, Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke almost had an unexpected and new primary election challenger — each other.

For the first time in their time in Congress, the pair would have faced off in the Aug. 23 primary to both represent Bed-Stuy, as the neighborhood was briefly split between their two districts. The newly contested race had come about as a result of redistricting. 

Redistricting is a process that allows state governments  to redraw their congressional and state legislature districts. It occurs every 10 years following the release of census data, which shows how much each state’s population has changed over the decade. 

It’s an important event in reapportioning representatives in the House. If a state’s population has decreased, like New York’s, it loses representatives because there’s less population to represent.

When the districts are altered, communities that were once part of one district often run the risk of being part of a different district. Among the goals of this process is to give each district roughly the same number of residents and to keep racial, ethnic and religious groups connected to not dilute their votes. 

Two ways of looking at how to divide up districts in Brooklyn.

When critics attack the borders of the districts that have been selected, they call it gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is when a state legislature draws the new districts in a way that’s meant to benefit one political party over another. This can be done in two main ways: cracking and packing.

Cracking is when the lines of the map “crack” apart geographically demographic groups that are expected to have a single political affiliation. Packing is the opposite of that. Legislators will pack a large group of one political affiliation together in a single district in order to diminish the number of representatives who are elected from that party. 

An unintended side effect of gerrymandering, however, is that it can lead to some really strangely shaped districts. In fact, that’s how the process got its name, according to the History Channel

In 1812, Elbridge Gerry, then governor of Massachusetts, approved a redistricting map that included a long, winding district that wove itself halfway around the state. The now-defunct Boston-Gazette published a cartoon of the redistricting map with the district drawn to resemble a dragon and named it “the gerry-mander.”

This year, New York got both redistricted and, some say, gerrymandered

In 2014, voters had checked off a proposal to have a bipartisan commission handle future redistricting, but the Democratic Party in the state legislature decided not to agree with the commission’s maps. Instead, they drew their own maps that could result in more Democratic wins and it was signed by the governor.

Ultimately, an appeals court in New York later ruled the newer maps were unconstitutional. One of their judges, Patrick McAllister, hired a political science professor from CMU named Jonathan Cervas to draw a new map. The final version of Cervas’ map was then approved last month. 

An earlier version of Cervas’ map broke apart Asian American communities in Brooklyn and combined Jeffries and Clarke’s districts, initially pitting the two Brooklyn Democrats against each other in a single reelection race.

“The map prepared by an unelected, out-of-town special master and rubber-stamped in the dead of night by a partisan Republican judge in Steuben County is a constitutional travesty,” Jeffries said in a statement about Cervas’ map. “The Court of Appeals recklessly ripped away the redistricting process from the elected representatives of New York State and set in motion a flawed process predetermined to benefit a Republican Party that embraces violent insurrectionists and refuses to denounce white supremacist replacement theory. The fix was in from the beginning.”

Clarke was also disraight. 

“This divide is not just unconscionable and erroneous, it’s unconstitutional. The historic nature of Central Brooklyn Congressional Districts are well known throughout New York City, New York State and indeed across our great nation. As proposed, this map cracks the historic neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Clinton Hill, seemingly at random,” Clarke’s office said in their own statement. 

A week later, a different map came out. Their districts would remain apart, at least for another decade.  

Top image taken by Amanda Salazar.

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