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Redistricting Creates Upheaval for N.Y. Lawmakers

Earlier this year, New York’s tumultuous redistricting process convulsed the state’s House races, sparking intraparty drama that has provoked free-for-all primary contests and forced high-ranking Democrats to run against each other.

But the court-drawn maps also threw Albany into chaos, upending district lines in the Democratic-controlled State Senate, and with similar effect: Lawmakers were thrust into the same districts, forcing some to make inconvenient living arrangements to run in neighboring districts in the Aug. 23 primary.

For State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., a Democrat from Queens, the changes meant that he would be likely to move in with his mother, who resides in the new district he is running in, if he wins. Mr. Addabbo’s home in Howard Beach was excluded from his current district.

“Thank God, I was nice to my mom all these years,” said Mr. Addabbo, 58, who is facing a primary challenge for the first time since he was elected in 2008. “I think my old bedroom is still available.”

The redistricting saga has forced incumbents to campaign in unfamiliar territory and to face unexpected challengers, injecting an element of unpredictability and setting off primary contests defined by ideology, ethnicity and local political power struggles, as well as by issues around public safety and affordability.

Residency requirements are eased in redistricting years, meaning candidates only have to live in the county they are running in, not the district. They must, however, move to the district if they win.

In the Bronx, State Senator Gustavo Rivera faced a choice: stay in the rent-stabilized apartment he has lived in for over two decades and take on State Senator Robert Jackson, or find another district to run in. He chose the latter, and will go up against the preferred candidate of the Bronx party machine.

“I’m not looking forward to jumping into the rental marketplace, but I will think about that pain after the 23rd of August,” said Mr. Rivera, a Democrat, referencing the primary date for contested races in the State Senate and Congress. “I’m not pleased.”

At least seven Democratic incumbents in the 63-seat Senate, where Democrats hold a supermajority, are facing primary challenges, while two newly created districts in New York City are among a handful of open seats up for grabs.

Despite the redistricting upheaval, Democratic incumbents are optimistic about their chances in the August primary, after the party establishment squashed insurgent challenges in many Assembly primaries in June, as well as in the race for governor and lieutenant governor.

There may also be fewer seats in the State Senate ripe for left-leaning hopefuls to target, following a string of progressive upsets that led Democrats to retake the majority in 2018 and placed incumbents on high alert, according to political operatives.

“They’ve lost the element of surprise,” said Bhav Tibrewal, the political director for the New York Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, which represents hotel workers. “Mainstream Democrats have been running scared of them and so are taking their challenges much more seriously.”

Incumbents significantly outspent their opponents in the June 28 primary, but labor unions also played a key role in mobilizing their members in a low-turnout election.

Endorsements from unions, whose members tend to turn out at higher rates than the average voter, could serve as a powerful stamp of approval for incumbents racing to meet new voters in new neighborhoods.

On a recent weekday morning, State Senator Andrew Gounardes, who represents a Trump-supporting district in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, was campaigning outside a subway station vying for the attention of far more liberal voters in Brooklyn Heights, which is now part of the new district he is running in.

A city councilman campaigning with him, Lincoln Restler, spotted a janitor ordering coffee from a nearby food truck and approached him to let him know that his union of building service workers, 32BJ SEIU, was planning to endorse Mr. Gounardes soon.

“Oh, we got you!” replied the worker, as he picked up a Gounardes campaign flier.

But roughly 80 percent of the Brooklyn waterfront district is new territory to Mr. Gounardes, 37, creating an opening for his challenger, David Yassky, 58, a former city councilman from Brooklyn Heights. Mr. Yassky is running on a pitch that he is more intricately familiar with the brownstone neighborhoods in the district than Mr. Gounardes.

“I have deeper knowledge of these neighborhoods than anybody else in the race,” he said, adding that he was running to voice his district’s concerns with affordability and subway safety.

Challengers across the ideological spectrum have launched campaigns, hoping that the new maps will loosen the terrain and lead to the unseating of longtime incumbents.

The Democratic Socialists of America endorsed two insurgent candidates hoping to win new seats, including David Alexis, 33, a ride-share driver and community organizer challenging State Senator Kevin Parker in Brooklyn. To overcome what is expected to be abysmal voter turnout, Mr. Alexis said that his campaign has been mobilizing potential voters since last year, knocking on over 60,000 doors with the help of 750 volunteers.

Mr. Parker may have benefited from the new Senate maps: His Flatbush-based district no longer includes Park Slope, removing a neighborhood that could boost a challenger from the left.

“I don’t need to turn atheists into Catholics,” said Mr. Parker, 55, who was first elected in 2002 and has clashed with younger progressives in Albany. “I just need to get Baptists to come to church.”

“For me, it’s just emphasizing the date of the election and the fact that I’m on the ballot,” Mr. Parker said.

In the Bronx, Mr. Rivera’s primary sparked an intraparty clash.

To avoid running against a fellow lawmaker, he chose to run in a district that encompasses about 50 percent of the heavily Hispanic district he currently represents, but now also includes the more white and affluent neighborhood of Riverdale.

Also running is a new candidate, Miguelina Camilo, who had been endorsed by the Bronx Democratic Party before the courts redrew the lines. The local party stuck with its endorsement after Mr. Rivera jumped into the race, a decision that he called “terribly disappointing.”

“The lines put me in the worst-case scenario,” said Mr. Rivera, 46, who was first elected in 2010.

He said it wasn’t a secret that he didn’t have a close relationship with the party organization in the county, but that it was disappointing to feel as if all the work he had done had gone to waste because he didn’t “bend the knee” to the local party.

Ms. Camilo, a lawyer with a focus on family law, called the situation “unfortunate,” stressing that she had received the party’s endorsement when she launched her campaign in February, before the courts intervened, to run in the open seat vacated by State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, who is running for Congress.

“It wasn’t just a game to pick a seat just to get to Albany, I want to speak for this district,” said Ms. Camilo, 36, a first-time candidate from the Dominican Republic. She said that her lived experience working in her father’s bodega while becoming the first member of her family to go to college made her “a strong voice for working families.”

In Queens, Mr. Addabbo’s expansively contorted district, which stretched from Maspeth to Rockaway Beach, was made more compact, shedding the Rockaways, which is predominantly white. Richmond Hill, home to a robust South Asian community and the city’s largest Sikh population, was added to the district, which now has a notably higher share of Asians and Hispanics.

Among those running against Mr. Addabbo, who is white, is Japneet Singh, 28, an accountant and part-time taxi driver who is Sikh American and has focused his campaign on the anti-Asian hate crimes affecting his community.

“I’ve seen the pain of these folks; it’s not safe out here,” said Mr. Singh, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last year. “I’m representing a demographic that nobody cares about.”

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