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Eying new House district, Democratic campaign chair faces backlash

Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters as he leaves the House Chamber following the final vote of the week regarding the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act on Friday, March 18, 2022.
Greg Nash

The looming overhaul of New York’s congressional map has sparked open warfare among incumbent Democrats, setting the stage for a potential clash between the party’s midterm campaign chairman and a first-term Black lawmaker — a scenario that’s prompted a backlash from some members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). 

The furor revolves around the recent announcement by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who currently represents New York’s 18th District, to run for reelection in the 17th, a seat currently held by fellow Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones, a member of the CBC. 

Maloney heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and his proposed jump has drawn howls from some Democrats who say it’s inherently unfair to have the campaign chairman — a figure who both controls the party’s finances and is charged with protecting incumbents — take on someone currently holding a seat. 

Jones has not announced his plans if New York’s new map, which a judge unveiled on Monday, is finalized. But Jones represents an overwhelming majority of the newly proposed 17th District, and if the new lines become law, he could be put in the difficult spot of either challenging Maloney to keep his seat or jumping to the 16th District to take on another Black liberal Democrat, Rep. Jamaal Bowman.

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), head of the CBC, downplayed the quarrel on Wednesday, pointing out that New York’s map is not expected to be final until the end of the week. 

“We’re not at Friday yet, so we don’t know what the districts are gonna look like,” she told reporters in the Capitol. 

But other lawmakers aren’t waiting that long, lashing out at Maloney for even the threat of challenging an incumbent from his perch atop the DCCC. 

“There’s a simple solution here. Maloney should run in NY-18, which he mostly represents. Jones in NY-17, which he mostly represents. Bowman in NY-16, which he mostly represents,” Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), yet another first-term Black New Yorker, tweeted Wednesday. “Problem solved.”

When reports emerged Wednesday that Maloney and his supporters are planning to argue that Jones would be better suited for Bowman’s district, which is more urban, Torres dropped the cordial tone.

“The thinly veiled racism here is profoundly disappointing,” he said in a second tweet. “A black man is ideologically ill suited to represent a Westchester County District that he represents presently and won decisively in 2020?”   

“Outrageous.”

Maloney has defended the notion of jumping districts, saying the new lines — if they become final — put his residence squarely in the 17th District.

“It’s important that we all remember that this is up to the voters, not to any of us. And ultimately, the voters will make these choices. All we do is put our names on a ballot,” he told reporters on Tuesday. 

“From my point of view, I’m just running where … I landed,” he continued. “If someone else is looking at the district as well, obviously we’ll try to work through that as colleagues and friends.”

With the New York map scheduled to be announced in its final form on Friday, a number of prominent Democrats are joining Beatty in treading carefully — at least publicly — until the process is through. 

“I like to see what it is when it’s all done. And I might have an opinion then,” said Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the Democratic whip and a prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

Others have focused their criticisms not on Maloney but on the series of court decisions that first rejected the Democrats’ proposed map, which likely would have allowed Democrats to pick up several House seats, and then replaced it with the latest proposal, which could lead to Democratic losses. If there’s any racism in the process, these critics say, it was there.

“In Brooklyn and Queens, you’ve got four districts with significant pluralities of either African Americans or Latinos. … In this proposed map, the Black or Latino population was degraded in all four districts. Are you kidding me? That doesn’t happen by accident,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday. 

Beatty on Wednesday delivered a similar verdict. 

“I’m not going to go and make a statement that our DCCC chair did anything that was racially motivated. Candidates can make choices. No one’s going to force anyone to run anywhere,” she said. “I think the bigger picture is what happened in redistricting. If you want to talk about something being racially motivated, let’s go look at the court system.” 

Mychael Schnell contributed reporting.

Tags DCCC Joyce Beatty Mondaire Jones Sean Patrick Maloney

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