Schrödinger’s seat could entice ex-congresswoman to make a comeback

Former Rep. Carolyn Maloney told NBC 4 New York on Tuesday that she’d like to return to the House, a declaration that came hours after New York’s highest court ordered the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission to draw a new congressional map to be used in next year’s elections.

Maloney, who lost last year’s Democratic primary to fellow Manhattan Rep. Jerry Nadler in a 55-24 landslide, told reporter Melissa Russo, “If they draw a district I could win in, of course I’d run.” The two 30-year incumbents faced off last year after a court crafted a new safely blue seat that placed Maloney’s Upper East Side base and Nadler’s Upper West Side turf in the same district for the first time since World War I. For Maloney to have a shot at a comeback, a new map would almost certainly have to once again separate the two neighborhoods.

However, it’s anyone’s guess whether the former congresswoman will get any sort of “district I could win in,” or whether the new boundaries will ensure that Maloney’s forced retirement from the House is permanent. As Daily Kos’ Stephen Wolf explained earlier this week, several steps remain before a new map can be finalized, and there’s no telling how things might unfold.

Maloney isn’t the only politician in the Empire State who will be watching to see if they have a winnable district to run for once a final map is in place. Last month, one notable Democrat, New York City Councilman Justin Brannan, declined to rule out challenging GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis in the 11th District. The current version of that seat, which includes all of Staten Island and a portion of Brannan’s Brooklyn base, backed Donald Trump 53-46 in 2020, but Brannan and other Democrats are hoping that the new map will leave Malliotakis more vulnerable.

But for now, Maloney, Brannan, and numerous other would-be contenders across New York can only plan out runs for a Schrödinger’s Seat, a term we coined more than a decade ago at the Swing State Project to refer to a constituency that may or may not come into being after redistricting.

Candidates who have already announced bids for office under the old map are also in a similar situation, as the new maps may entice them to run in a district that looks quite different from the one they’re currently seeking—or even convince them to end their campaigns.

The calendar also adds to the confusion. The candidate filing deadline for the state’s June 25 primary will take place sometime around late March (the exact date has not been set), which is only about a month after the redistricting commission’s court-ordered Feb. 28 deadline to submit a new map to the legislature.

Last year, though, the courts drew new maps for both the U.S. House and state Senate so close to the regularly scheduled June primary that a second August primary was held just for those offices. The Empire State is already set to host its presidential primary on April 2, so it’s possible more delays in redistricting could result in three different primary dates next year.

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