The Ocean County town of Lakewood is growing – and fast. With a 2020 population of 135,138, well up from 92,843 in 2010, the town is set to make up 58% of any legislative district it is a part of, and will have a massive influence on legislative boundaries across the state in the upcoming redistricting cycle.
Lakewood’s current legislative district, the 30th, is far overpopulated at 268,949 people, and will need to shed a full 37,000 people to reach the ideal district size of 232,225. Other nearby districts, like the 10th and 11th, are also overpopulated, while many others to the south are underpopulated.
The thorny challenge for the Legislative Apportionment Commission, which has yet to determine its final member, is that Lakewood is bordered by only four towns, all of which themselves have populations over 50,000. The number of options for Lakewood-based districts, therefore, is quite limited.
The hometowns of current legislators present a further obstacle. Currently, the 30th district is represented by State Sen. Robert Singer (R-Lakewood) and Assemblymen Sean Kean (R-Wall) and Edward Thomson (R-Wall); depending on how the lines are drawn, Kean and Thomson may find themselves drawn into a different district than Singer, and surrounding incumbents may also have their territory shift significantly.
Presented here are seven possibilities for how the commission might try to draw a Lakewood legislative district, ranging from options that would keep the status quo largely in place to ones that would completely reshape how Ocean and Monmouth Counties are represented in the legislature.
The Map of Least Change
Lakewood, Howell, Wall, Farmingdale, Spring Lake Heights, Brielle (pop. 226,596)
Perhaps the most logical option for the redistricting commission to pursue is a map of least change that keeps Lakewood, Howell (pop. 53,537), and Wall (pop. 26,525) together while shedding the 30th district’s smaller oceanside municipalities of Avon-by-the Sea, Belmar, Bradley Beach, Lake Como, Manasquan, Point Pleasant, Sea Girt, and Spring Lake.
This option largely maintains the structural integrity of the current 30th district, and keeps Singer, Kean, and Thomson in the same district.
However, the abandonment of the current district’s seaside communities would force the 10th or 11th districts – both of which are themselves overpopulated – to awkwardly incorporate territory far from their current boundaries. And if either district gains population from the 30th district, they will have to lose it elsewhere, creating further consequences for the overall legislative map.
The Dense District
Lakewood, Brick, Mantoloking, Point Pleasant, Point Pleasant Beach, Bay Head (pop. 233,746)
Instead of continuing to link Lakewood with communities to the north, mapmakers could instead connect it with Brick (pop. 73,620) to its east, with a few small seaside municipalities bringing the new district’s total population almost perfectly in line with the ideal district size.
Geographically, this district would be the most compact of all possible options, conveniently combining two of the area’s largest municipalities into one district.
But politically, it would be an earthquake. Not only would it shut Kean and Thomson out of the 30th district, it would also put Assemblyman John Catalano (R-Brick) in a new district while severing him from his 10th district counterparts, State Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Toms River) and Assemblyman Gregory McGuckin (R-Toms River).
It would also leave behind around 100,000 people to the north for another district, most likely the 11th, to incorporate, dramatically reshaping that district and creating ripple effects that would extend further throughout the state.
The Brick Wall
Lakewood, Brick, Wall (pop. 235,303)
An alternate option for a district based in Lakewood and Brick would be to leave out the smaller communities along the coast, and instead swing north to keep Wall in the district.
This could benefit Kean and Thomson, who wouldn’t have to find a new district to run in, but they would still have to face Catalano for control of the seat.
One further consideration is that Catalano, Singer, and Holzapfel are all over 70 years old; in the event that the 10th and 30th district incumbents have their hometowns joined together in some fashion, the older legislators may step aside to avoid a bruising primary fight.
The River District
Lakewood, Toms River, Island Heights, Lavallette (pop. 234,033)
A Lakewood-based district could also ignore Brick entirely and instead shift even further south, taking in the huge town of Toms River (pop. 95,438) and two other small municipalities. This would effectively make Lakewood trade places with Brick, which could then join Howell and Wall to the north.
As with any option that leaves behind Wall, this option complicates the political futures of Kean and Thomson, and also makes things difficult for Holzapfel and McGuckin, both of whom are from Toms River.
But while it entirely reshapes the 10th and 30th districts, the Lakewood-Toms River option is among the best for maintaining the status quo elsewhere. Manchester (pop. 45,115) would have to find a new home, but otherwise, nearby districts like the 11th would largely be able to keep their current boundaries intact.
The Inland Swing – North Version
Lakewood, Jackson, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township (pop. 241,609)
Two options – a north version and a south version – would combine Lakewood with the inland township of Jackson (pop. 58,544), which is currently in the sprawling 12th legislative district.
In the north version, the district would take Freehold Township and Freehold Borough from the 11th district. This option would be inconvenient for Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Freehold), whose political base would be excised from the Democratic-leaning 11th district and instead hitched to overwhelmingly Republican Lakewood.
The Inland Swing – South Version
Lakewood, Jackson, Manchester, Lakehurst (pop. 241,453)
The south version, on the other hand, would leave the 11th district alone and instead veer south to take Manchester and Lakehurst from the 10th district. Since no current incumbent lives in Jackson, Manchester, or Lakehurst, this option would not sweep anyone’s hometown out from under them, with the exception of Kean and Thomson.
However, both variations of the Inland Swing take territory from three current legislative districts, forcing every district around them to adjust significantly. The 10th and 12th districts would each have to find new municipalities to make up for those lost to the Lakewood district, and the 11th district would also likely have to incorporate some of the current 30th district’s northern communities.
The Wild Card
Lakewood, Howell, Farmingdale, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township (pop. 238,106)
One last option is to keep Lakewood and Howell together, but have the Lakewood district take in Freehold Township and Freehold Borough instead of Wall. As in several previous options, Kean, Thomson, and Downey would all have their hometowns placed in new and unfamiliar districts.
Given that a Lakewood district could just as easily swing east and take in Wall, which would be a far less disruptive option, this final map has relatively few upsides.
As with any hypothetical redistricting plans, these maps are just that – hypothetical. And with other factors like the difficulty of incorporating Bayonne and the underpopulation of far South Jersey districts, it’s not clear yet how a reshaped Lakewood district will fit into the larger redistricting puzzle.
It’s easy enough to draw one district around Lakewood, or seven. But what will be harder for the redistricting commission is dealing with the ripples Lakewood creates; whatever happens in one district will always reverberate throughout the other 39.