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A Democrat, opposes map that would make his district more Democratic

It’s not every day a politician opposes a chance to make his district more friendly to his own party, but state Sen. Richard Codey is doing just that.

In Republican and Democratic legislative district map proposals released Monday — code named “Parkway” and “Turnpike,” respectively — Codey’s 27th District would shed several suburban towns in eastern Morris County and western Essex County, replacing them with urban Irvington in Essex County and suburban Hillside in Union County.



Codey (D-Essex) on Wednesday submitted written testimony to the commission charged with redrawing the districts, declaring his opposition to the change, saying he and his Assembly district mates are the only Democratic voices for voters in traditionally-Republican Morris County.

“We have given a voice to the many voters who wish to see their values represented and added to the dialogue in a county that otherwise has one-party representation,” Codey, who lives in Roseland, said of the Morris County portion of his district. “In terms of competitiveness and partisan fairness, neither proposed map envisions a district in Morris that lends itself to Democratic representation.”

Despite huge differences between the Democratic and Republican map proposals statewide, Codey’s district is the same in both.

The demographics: Irvington and Hillside are much more heavily Democratic than the towns Codey’s district would shed under the plans. They’re also majority Black. The 27th District is currently represented by two white men, Codey and Assemblymember John McKeon (D-Essex), and one Black woman: Assemblymember Mila Jasey (D-Essex).

Increasing the district’s Black population could lead to political pressure to elect more Black lawmakers. But Codey said in his statement that his current district “well reflects the diversity of our State, with communities that are racially and economically diverse.”

Instead of adding Hillside and Irvington, Codey suggested instead adding five well-heeled suburban western Essex County towns — Cedar Grove, Fairfield, North Caldwell, Verona and West Caldwell — which “would bring together a community of interest.”

Other testimony: About 160 people signed up to testify at the state legislative redistricting commission’s meeting Wednesday afternoon — its first since the proposed maps were made public. The interest was so strong that the commission rescheduled the virtual meeting to start two hours earlier and added another hearing on Friday.

Several politicians and activists testified that one or both of the proposed maps were drawn in part out of political vindictiveness — or posturing.

“We do not deserve to be a pawn in the game of political brinkmanship currently being played out at all levels of government,” said Neptune Borough Councilmember David Calhoun, a Democrat whose Monmouth County town under the Republican plan would be moved out of the competitive 11th District and into the heavily Republican 30th District.

Morris County Republican Chair Laura Ali argued against the Democratic proposal, which would separate the towns of Morris Plains and Parsippany. “They’ve always been together,” Ali said, adding that they’re practically “the same town.”

Under the Democratic plan, Morris Plains would instead be in the 25th District, potentially forcing Assemblymember Jay Webber (R-Morris) into a possible primary with two other Republican incumbents: Aura Dunn and Brian Bergen (both R-Morris).

 

“I feel strongly that the Democrats, because they don’t beat us in the general election, are now forcing unnecessary primaries against us,” Ali said. He also warned against shifting the lines of a district represented by first-term Assemblymember Christian Barranco, the only Hispanic Republican lawmaker.

What’s next: The meeting, which began at 4 p.m., is expected to go on well into the evening.

The 11 redistricting commissioners — five Democrat, five Republicans and a tie-breaker, former Judge Philip Carchman — plan to convene at a Princeton-area hotel next week to begin negotiations in earnest. The maps they released Monday are not expected to be their final proposals.

The constitutional deadline for the new legislative district map is March 1.

Democrats hold a 24-16 majority in the state Senate and a 46-34 majority in the Assembly.

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