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Guest Column: Gerrymandering hurts our democracy

No one was surprised when Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the newly created New York congressional districts into law. The new districts included the gerrymandered 1st Congressional District, so last week, I told my staff that we were suspending our congressional campaign.

When we became aware of the redistricted maps three weeks ago, we broke down the data and concluded that we simply do not have the resources to harvest the needed votes to win the primary in the new areas of the 1st District. So I had the painful job of telling my campaign staff that we needed to recognize the harsh reality in the data rather than cling to false hope.

Let me point out that I was the unknown, underfunded underdog in the race. But I was on a mission. I was tired of seeing Democratic candidates running for this seat who were utterly out of touch with the issues of working families and the middle class. I entered the race because my wife and I have three children, own a house, and, to pay our bills, I always have had to work more than two jobs. So I felt I understood the so-called “kitchen-table” issues, and I wanted to see if someone who wasn’t a millionaire or a career politician could get elected to Congress. But when we saw the new borders of the congressional district that put our core supporters out of the district, all hope was lost.

As a result of gerrymandering, our campaign lost all the communities where our base supporters live — the Sachem Central School District where I grew up and work. We lost the places where we had started canvassing, where we hosted “meet & greets,” and what hurt most was that we lost the predominantly blue-collar ZIP codes. We felt that focusing on these communities gave us a chance to cobble together a win in the primary because I was running as a working family, moderate blue-dog Democrat — appealing to many who do not typically vote in the primaries.

As someone directly and immediately impacted by gerrymandering, I dismiss the notion by those saying gerrymandering is a necessary evil in politics or those who further enrage me by saying, “the Republicans did it to us in New York State in 2010.” Let’s be clear the philosophy of “cheating is ok if it benefits my side” is not a good one for anyone but hardcore ends-justify-the-means partisans. In my mind, this is one of the main reasons for rampant political apathy. It is also another warning to anyone who cares about democracy in America and who wants to ensure it lasts.

With gerrymandering in states like ours that have closed primaries, the general election will not matter much at all. Only the primaries will matter, and guess who generally decides the primaries? The wings of the parties. The real victims here are everybody in the middle — the moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans. Sadly, we are stuck with a two-party system that is becoming more and more extreme, and gerrymandering is the main reason it is this way.

We must all realize that gerrymandering is a system where politicians ultimately decide who we can vote for in a general election. There are far too many moderates who feel that their political ideology is simply not aligned with our elected officials — who feel that their voices are not heard on many issues. We need candidates who understand this and represent not just those who get them elected but everyone.

The Super Bowl is never a contest between the worst and the best team in the league. That would be absurd, yet in politics we have the equivalent when districts are, by design, drawn to favor one political party over the other. I may be old-fashioned, but I believe iron strengthens iron, and I prefer a congressional district with political parity, where competing ideas clash in vigorous debate and discussion. And let the best candidate win. Every 10 years we hear Democrats and Republicans cry about how they are outraged when gerrymandering adversely impacts them. Our message to Congress should be simple: Stop being a hypocrite! If you’re opposed to partisan gerrymandering, then join with those across the aisle and outlaw it nationwide. If you’re unwilling to do that, please stop complaining.

Although I’m utterly disappointed that we’ll never know what could have been, I look at withdrawing from the congressional contest as a setback and not a defeat. I still have a deep desire to have an encore career in public service & I promise to keep you updated.

Mr. Antonucci is a middle school teacher in the Sachem Central School District. He lives in Southold and had planned a campaign for Congress.