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New York State Congressional Primary Races Full of Drama, Especially for DCCC Chairman

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File

New York held its congressional primaries on Tuesday, with messy races pitting Democratic incumbents against each other. Rep. Jerry Nadler defeated Rep. Carolyn Maloney for the newly drawn 12th Congressional District, after both of them have been in Congress since 1993. New York losing a seat as a result of the 2020 census involved a harried redistricting process, with state Democrats drawing up particularly gerrymandered maps, which were ruled unconstitutional after lawsuits were brought.

The process created controversy for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), who also chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). 

This passage from this May 17 report for The New York Times, fittingly titled "Fearing ‘Extinction-Level Event,’ N.Y. Democrats Turn Against Each Other," is particularly telling:

Just 25 minutes after the maps’ release, Mr. Maloney announced on Twitter that he would leave behind the bulk of his traditional Hudson Valley seat and run instead for a newly drawn 17th Congressional District rooted in Westchester County. Mr. Maloney lives within the new lines, which happen to offer a safer path for a Democrat than the district he currently represents.

What might have seemed like an easy political decision for Mr. Maloney, however, has quickly turned into a political firestorm, replete with racial overtones, off-the-record recriminations and rare breaches of congressional decorum between staff of neighboring colleagues

Some Democrats saw the maneuver as an attempt to box out Representative Mondaire Jones, a first-term congressman who represents the vast majority of the district’s population, and force him to enter a primary against Jamaal Bowman, a fellow Black progressive, in the neighboring 16th District. Mr. Jones made no secret of his own feelings, though he has yet to say which Democrat he will challenge.

“Sean Patrick Maloney did not even give me a heads-up before he went on Twitter to make that announcement,” Mr. Jones tersely told Politico on Monday. “And I think that tells you everything you need to know about Sean Patrick Maloney.”

In a rare break from Congress’s genteel protocols, Mr. Jones’s chief of staff even shared a screenshot of an exchange with Mr. Maloney’s top aide, and accused the chairman of prioritizing his personal interests “rather than working to unravel this gerrymander” by the courts.

It wasn't merely The New York Times. That piece referenced a May 16 report from POLITICO, "‘Absolutely stunned’: New York House map sets off chaos, backbiting among Dems." The headline comes from Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who was also quoted as saying "I’ve never lost an election; I don’t intend to start now." She lost by over 30 points to Rep. Nadler. 

That report also included the distaste many had:

The special master’s proposal released early Monday afternoon roiled the Democratic caucus. Multiple Democrats called it an affront to established communities of interest, particularly diverse communities in New York City. House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries released a digital ad slamming the map.

“The draft map released by a Judicial Overseer in Steuben County and unelected, out-of-town Special Master, both of whom happen to be white men, is part of a vicious national pattern targeting districts represented by members of the Congressional Black Caucus,” he said in a statement Monday.

It’s unclear how much will change before the final map is released. The current version scrambled the lower Hudson Valley, including placing Jones’ home in with another Democratic incumbent, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, while putting the bulk of his current district in the seat where Sean Patrick Maloney is now running.

Much of Maloney’s current seat lies in a district to the north. The move baffled some Democrats, who wondered why he would force Jones to choose between running against him or Bowman.

“I’m really shocked that my district will be obliterated in the way that it was and that they would draw my residence into the same district as Jamaal’s residence,” Jones said.

The next day, POLITICO ran another report, "Dems question whether Maloney can run DCCC while battling freshman colleague," when it was possible that he and Rep. Mondaire Jones would run against each other. The report mentioned "private concerns" about the "inappropriate scenario." 

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) is also mentioned for his distaste at Maloney's decision. The Daily Mail subsequently picked up on a tweet of his in which he decried "thinly veiled racism here," which he called "profoundly disappointing." Slate picked up on it as well, and pointed to many more who were not thrilled.

Jones, who currently represents the 16th Congressional District, ultimately decided to run in the 10th Congressional District, rather than in the 16th against fellow freshman squad member Rep. Jamaal Bowman. Writing for The Intercept, Ryan Grim phrased it as Rep. Jones having been "[b]ullied by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney out of his own slightly redrawn congressional district..." 

Rep. Maloney won his primary on Tuesday night, which was called by Decision Desk HQ at 10:00pm that night. Decision Desk also noted this is a "Safe Democratic" seat.

With 66.89 percent, Maloney got more than twice as many votes as his primary opponent, state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a progressive backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who came in with 33.11 percent. 

It does not look like Jones will share Maloney's good fortunes, since he's likely to lose his seat. 

While Decision Desk has not yet called the race, others have, declaring Daniel Goldman, who served as the lead counsel against Trump in his first impeachment inquiry, the nominee. 

With 92 percent of the vote in, Goldman has 25.76 percent, while Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou has 23.74 percent of the vote. She is considering challenging Goldman in November under the Working Families Party. Niou has not yet conceded, and the race won't be certified until September 14. 

Rep. Jones, is in third, with 18.18 percent of the vote. This is despite him sort of having had the power of the incumbency and support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). 

On Tuesday afternoon, Zach Williams wrote for The New York Post that "Rep. Mondaire Jones faces political wilderness at age 35." In it, he wrote that if Jones ended up losing, "he could blame his House colleague Sean Patrick Maloney as much as his opponents."

The chairman last month acknowledged about the redistricting chaos that "I know there are a lot of strong feelings about it and I think I could’ve handled it better." He still claimed "we avoided a member-on-member primary."

High off of his win, Maloney appeared confident on Wednesday's MSNBC's "Morning Joe" as he declared "we won by being a mainstream Democrat who gets things done, and that's what the voters want, they want people who do the work, and they showed up, and we won decisively."

As he's done before, Maloney also defended the DCCC's decision to promote John Gibbs, the Republican nominee for Michigan's 3rd Congressional District. Maloney's DCCC promoted Gibbs over Rep. Peter Meijer, because Gibbs, whom Maloney called a "weak opponent," is considered easier to beat in November, with the seat being ranked "Lean Democratic" by Cook Political Report. While that means it is more so in the Democrat's favor, it's not as sure a bet as Maloney thinks it is. Sabato's Crystal Ball still says it's a "Toss-Up."

Maloney mentioned "it's politics, and you're not gonna take the politics out of politics," arguing "the larger moral imperative is to keep dangerous people out of our government, controlling the House of Representatives."

While Maloney may cruise to another victory in November, POLITICO on Wednesday pointed out that the chairman "might not be the most popular Democrat in the delegation right now," no doubt a reflection of how the redistricting and decisions of who would run where was handled. 

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