Only in N.Y.: Upper West Side’s Nadler vs. Upper East Side’s Maloney

Rep. Jerry Nadler speaks during the New York State Democratic Convention in New York, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Washington Post – For decades Central Park has served as the equivalent of a great lake or grand chasm, dividing Manhattan’s political representatives into the Upper East and Upper West sides.

This division created some legendary congressmen, such as the East Side’s two future mayors, John Lindsay and Edward Koch, and the West Side’s feminist hero, Bella Abzug. And this divide fit the idiosyncratic manners of two neighborhoods that seem quite similar, separated by only a half-mile-wide park. But for actual residents, they often joke that traveling from one side to the other requires getting their passports stamped.

Now a state court has forced the two neighborhoods together, throwing out the expected congressional map because of an extreme partisan gerrymander by Democrats. But rather than just touch up a few districts to make things fair, the judicially appointed special master cast aside traditional neighborhood representation.

And now, Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn B. Maloney, both first elected 30 years ago, will square off in a Democratic primary later this summer that has the potential to bitterly divide the House Democratic Caucus.

In this corner, from the Upper West Side, Nadler came of age politically in the 1970s and 1980s as a state assemblyman fighting Donald Trump’s business expansion into that neighborhood.

In the other corner, from the Upper East Side, Maloney took the onetime moderate Republican “silk stocking district” and turned it into a bright-blue bastion of liberal values.

They both hold considerable sway in the halls of Congress as well, with Nadler chairing the House Judiciary Committee, and Maloney leading the House Oversight and Reform Committee. If Republicans win the majority in the November midterms, those two panels would take center stage in a GOP attack on the Biden administration.

“In the history of redistricting, Manhattan has always been divided east-west,” Nadler said in an interview Thursday, explaining all the other ways the court did things against tradition. “There was no reason to flip Manhattan from east-west to north-south. None at all.”

Even before the final decision came late Friday night, the race showed signs that it would turn bitter.

On Thursday night, Maloney, 76, shared a photo from an event with a pro-Israel group that Nadler, 74, also attended. But her photo was taken at an angle that made Nadler appear slumped over, with his legs dangling above the floor, looking as if he was asleep.

“It’s my district,” Maloney told reporters as she left the Capitol on Thursday. “I live in New York 12. I represent it now, and I will be running for reelection in New York 12.”

Earlier in the week, she belittled Nadler’s claim to run in this newly drawn 12th Congressional District.

“It’s 61 percent Maloney, 31 percent Nadler,” she said, suggesting that much of his current seat, the 10th Congressional District, is still there for him even if the new map cuts out the Upper West Side.

Nadler’s initial plan was to run a very early, aggressive campaign to garner enough support that Maloney would move south into the 10th Congressional District, which encompasses much of Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

“I hope that if she sees the support building up for me, she’ll change her mind. If not, I run against her,” Nadler said Thursday.

That option, however, disappeared Friday. First, former mayor Bill DeBlasio, D, whose Brooklyn home is in the new 10th District, declared he will run for that seat. Then, Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., whose suburban district got entangled with two other Democrats, announced he will move into the 10th District, leaving little room for either Nadler or Maloney to move there without even more bitter primary infighting.

Some powerful New Yorkers want to hold a meeting of the political families, now that the maps have been finalized, to try to negotiate a peaceful ending.

“See if we can have a conversation, because we need both of them,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y. “I don’t want to settle for one. I need both Jerry and Carolyn.”

Meeks, from Queens, chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, while Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D, whose district in Brooklyn and Queens was also chopped apart, is the city’s fourth chair, leading the House Small Business Committee.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, a rising star in leadership who some want to succeed Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as House speaker, has become the de facto referee in this squabble with no obvious solution at hand.

“Member-on-member primaries are an unfortunate byproduct and consequence of every redistricting cycle,” Jeffries told reporters Thursday.

For now, Nadler and Maloney are talking about keeping fellow Democrats out of the mess. “I wouldn’t ask the delegation to take sides,” Nadler said Thursday.

“I think we’re going to all run on our own,” Maloney said.

At 1:24 a.m. Saturday, after the final maps appeared, Nadler made a formal declaration for the 12th District. In an only-in-Manhattan type of way, he talked about appealing to a new set of voters from a different universe — who live less than a mile away.

“Eager to introduce myself — and my record of principled leadership — more fully, to neighboring communities of the East Side,” he tweeted.

Maloney starts off with a slight edge because more of her district is in the new 12th, and she has recent political experience, facing somewhat difficult primary challenges in three of the last six races. Nadler has never fought for his own political life.

“I’ve never really had a close primary,” he said.

Of course, Maloney almost lost in 2020 and should other East Side liberals enter the race, they could dilute her support and hand the east-west district to Nadler.

New Yorkers are particularly outraged that someone with no history of the city was appointed to draw up these maps.

“An outsider coming in New York to draw lines, of a city and a state that he has no idea, does not make any sense. That’s what makes the process — the whole process is tainted,” Meeks said.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York submitted a detailed analysis of how different the Upper West Side and Upper East Side are, even among the large Jewish populations in the two neighborhoods. The West Side contains a much larger number of orthodox Jewish families, but the East Side district’s families have three times as many children.

Almost no one on the West Side ever sends their children to an East Side school, and vice versa, the council’s leaders wrote to the state court. “It is hard for a non-New Yorker to understand how different the East Side and West Side are.”

Nadler and Maloney are about to find out.

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