Home>Campaigns>Hudson pols don’t like the new legislative maps – but there might not be a better alternative

Senator Nicholas J. Sacco. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Hudson pols don’t like the new legislative maps – but there might not be a better alternative

Population growth makes the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd districts hard to balance

By Joey Fox, February 09 2022 11:36 am

In the two days since the first two legislative map proposals were released by the Legislative Apportionment Commission, a number of Hudson County politicians have made one thing clear: they don’t like either of them.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, whose city is one of only two in the state large enough to be legally split into multiple districts, used Twitter to blast the Democratic plan, which would divide the city across the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd districts.

“Dividing Jersey City into 3 legislative districts as proposed by the Dem map would do a disservice to residents of the single most diverse city in NJ + hurt our large immigrant communities,” Fulop wrote. “This makes little sense and should be changed.”

But North Bergen Mayor and 32nd district State Sen. Nicholas Sacco had few kind words for the Republican map, either, which would shift Kearny out of his district and Hoboken into it.

“The proposed legislative maps would both create unnecessary disruption within Hudson County and are not acceptable in their current forms,” Sacco told the Hudson County View. “While the population growth in the area makes a certain amount of change inevitable, the apportionment commission should take continuity of representation into account and do what it can to prevent these kinds of disruptions which can have negative consequences for residents.”

As for Kearny Mayor Al Santos, he said that splitting his town from Harrison and East Newark – something done by both legislative maps – does a disservice to the three West Hudson communities.

“I don’t think for our region it makes much sense,” Santos said. “We have the commonality of not only borders, but in roadways and residents here avail themselves of services in all three communities. Demographically, all three communities are very similar so for purposes under the principles of redistricting, in my mind it doesn’t make sense to split up West Hudson.”

In other words, all three mayors would prefer that the legislative map come close to maintaining its current configuration, in which Jersey City is split only once and West Hudson is kept intact. But population growth in Hudson County – the county grew by 14% from 2010 to 2020, more than double the statewide rate – makes a status quo redistricting impossible.

The core of the problem lies in two districts, the 31st and 33rd, which currently contain a total of five municipalities: Bayonne, Jersey City, Union City, Hoboken, and Weehawken. Collectively, those five communities have a population of 511,249, which is 47,099 more people than two legislative districts should ideally have.

Weehawken, which has a population of only 17,201 and which is not home to any current legislators, is easy enough to shift into another district. But that still leaves each district overpopulated by 14,949 people, well above the population deviation allowed under the commission’s standards.

The initial Republican proposal for Hudson County’s legislative districts.

Thus, mapmakers were presented with two solutions to relieve the excess population: split Jersey City three ways, or remove one of Union City, Hoboken, or Bayonne, each of which has one incumbent legislator.

For the commission’s Republicans, who have relatively little vested interest in protecting the hometowns of Democratic incumbents, the choice was easy. They shifted Hoboken into the 32nd district, double-bunking Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-Hoboken) with the 32nd district’s existing slate of three Democratic legislators, and moved Kearny into the 33rd district to account for the population loss.

Republicans could have also chosen to remove Bayonne, home to Assemblyman William Sampson, or Union City, where Brian Stack is mayor and state senator, both of which have about the same population as Hoboken.

The initial Democratic proposal for Hudson County’s legislative districts.

Democrats, on the other hand, were loath to derail one of their incumbents when another solution, splitting Jersey City into three parts, presented itself. By taking a chunk of the city’s Ward B, their proposal’s 32nd district relieves the population pressure on the other districts and resumed the pre-2011 status quo, when Jersey City was frequently divided three ways.

In other words, the two proposals represent the only two real solutions to Hudson County’s thorny population challenges – carving up Jersey City or messing with a sitting incumbent – and the county’s politicians aren’t happy with either, presenting an unenviable choice for the apportionment commission.

As for the separation of Kearny from Harrison, a separate decision in Essex County may have made such a change inevitable. The 28th district loses Irvington on both maps, causing it to incorporate more of Newark, which in turn forces the 29th district to grab Harrison to balance out its own population.

Hudson County has 28,629 too many people for only three legislative districts, so one or two towns had to be moved to a district based in a different county regardless – which could prove to be a boon for the county. The last time Harrison was in an Essex County-based district, Hudson County was able to send four state senators to Trenton, with Harrison Mayor Frank Rodgers unseating incumbent State Sen. Anthony Imperiale (I-Newark) in 1977.

This afternoon marks the first public hearing on the map proposals, when members of the public will have the opportunity to offer their thoughts – something completely avoided during the secretive congressional redistricting process. So many people have signed up to testify, in fact, that the hearing was pushed forward to 4 p.m. from 6 p.m., with an additional overflow session scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m.

Undoubtedly, some of the nearly 150 people who plan to speak on the maps will object to the Hudson County redraw. Why did the commission split Jersey City into three? Why is Hoboken moved into a new district? Why isn’t Kearny still with Harrison? Why couldn’t the current map have been left well alone?

But mathematically, some sacrifice somewhere will have to be made. And it will be up to each of Hudson County’s politicians and towns to convince the commission that they shouldn’t be the one on the chopping block.

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