Here Comes Chaos: Uncertain Election Day And District Lines Make For Primary Mess

“The redistricting process has been shockingly late—I say shockingly late,” said Vince Morgan, a community banker who has been laying the ground work for a run against Charlie Rangel—in a Harlem district that could move up to the Bronx and Westchester, or could stay where it is and gobble up Hispanic voting blocs in Manhattan. As a hedge, he said he has begun making his case to voters in areas far removed from his home in the central part of the old district. “It’s not frustration—it’s anxiety. We are all very anxious waiting for the lines to come out. I have a better chance of telling you what the winning Pick Four numbers are than giving you a date when this will all be settled” (though, Mr. Morgan points out, any confusion would effect his bid minimally, since “God blessed me with charisma”).

If Mr. Morgan and the residents of Harlem are confused, consider for a moment their neighbors to the north in the Hudson Valley region. The congressional district there has been one of the quintessential swing districts in the county, voting Democrat during Democratic waves (as in 2006) and Republican during Republican ones. The seat is currently held by Republican Nan Hayworth. If the towns of Poughkeepsie and Newburg are drawn into the district—they are now represented by Maurice Hinchey, who lives in Ithaca and who is retiring before the end of the year—it will become what is known as a “Plus Five” Democratic district—one sure to elect a Dem. If those two towns are grabbed by another district, then it becomes a “Plus Five” Republican district, making the incumbent, Ms. Hayworth, surely safe.

Rather than wait for the dust to settle, no fewer than five Democrats have thrown their hats into the ring, even though any of them could get drawn out of the district in the end.

“It certainly knocks the heck out of your fund-raising operation. There is a lot of hesitancy about getting involved,” said Joe Mercurio, an adviser to Matt Alexander, the mayor of Wappingers Falls, who is running for the seat. Mr. Mercurio described the awkwardness of asking potential voters for money for a candidate who may or may not be vying to represent them.

“Shit happens. This is a living-off-the-land kind of campaign.”

Or consider the case of Mark Levine, a political activist in Washington Heights. He had been planning to run for the City Council in 2013, until rumors started flying that Albany map makers may draw a Dominican-majority congressional district. If that were to happen, the incumbent state senator, Adriano Espailliat, would run for it, creating a vacancy in the State Senate that M. Levine  would have only a few weeks to prepare a run for—or, depending on Albany, a few months. Or, he too could wake and find himself drawn out of the district entirely.

“It’s just crazy. I’ve got little kids, and I don’t know if I can take them on a summer vacation, or a spring vacation for that matter,” he said. “I’ve become so frustrated with the process that I have to stop reading the blogs, trying to ignore every tiny rumor and ignore what is beyond my control. It was becoming extremely unproductive.”

But as tempting as it is to presume that it is simply the forces of nature that have conspired to create disarray, a confluence of unfortunate events, recall that the chaos favors the status quo. As long as would-be challengers don’t know which district they are running in, they can’t campaign. Until election day is finalized, they can’t start gathering signatures. They can fund-raise a bit, but for a fight against whom, exactly?

And so if you happen to notice a certain hair-pulling anxiety among would-be politicos who aren’t sure what the next few weeks will bring, those who have been ensconced in office for a while sound quite willing to let the process play out for as loooonggg aaassss iiiittt ttttaakkkess.

To wit, earlier this week, The Observer caught up with 40-year incumbent Charlie Rangel. He insisted he was running again, even if he couldn’t be sure where exactly—a piece of missing intelligence he sounded like he was taking in stride.

“This will be hard for a young fellow like yourself to understand,” he said. “But after 81 years, this should be the worst of my problems.”

dfreedlander@observer.com

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Here Comes Chaos: Uncertain Election Day And District Lines Make For Primary Mess