NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Like it or not, New Brunswick's Congressman will most likely be a Democrat for much, if not all, of the next 10 years.
A commission charged with re-drawing New Jersey's thirteen Congressional districts into just twelve decided to go with the Republican team's proposal in a 7-6 vote this morning at the Heldrich Hotel in downtown New Brunswick.
While some say the plan is a significant improvement over the old districts, large portions of the state have clearly been subject to gerrymandering that has, at the very least, been preserved in the new map. Gerrymandering is the act of manipulating district boundaries to produce a specific political advantage, usually the protection of incumbents, based on voting patterns or trends across different communities.
In New Jersey, the redistricting process is highly partisan. Under state law, the commission must consist of 13 members, only 1 of whom is supposedly independent. The other 12 are there to represent their political party, 6 from each of the two major parties. And the result, predictably, is a lack of competitive elections. Most of the districts adopted today lean towards one party over the other, at least enough to ensure most incumbents will stay in office as long as they run.
Traditionally, both sides submit a map of their proposed districts, and the indepenent member serves as a tiebreaking vote, selecting one of the two party's maps. This time around, the tiebreaker was the Dean of Rutgers-Newark Law School and former state Attorney General John Farmer.
Earlier this year, distinguished Rutgers Professor Alan Rosenthal served as tiebreaker on a smaller, similar committee to re-draw the state's 40 election districts for Assembly and State Senate offices. Mr. Rosenthal selected the Democrats map after a hotly-contested process that also took place at the Heldrich Hotel.
Congressional seats currently held by Democrats Frank Pallone and Rush Holt will continue to have Democratic majorities in their districts, barring any major changes in voters' party affiliations. Pallone has represented New Brunswick, since 1991, when re-districting moved the two-term Congressman's residence from the 3rd to the 6th district.
The odd men out in New Jersey's all-male Congressional delegation are Democrat Steve Rothman of the 8th District and Republican Scott Garrett of the 5th District, who may now end up running against one another in a combined district next year. PolitickerNJ.com reported that there was speculation Rothman may consider re-locating to a nearby district, the 8th, where his opposition would be a fellow Democrat, Bill Pascrell.
All of the other incumbents are expected to run and, in most cases, win in 2012. That is, unless they decide to seek a higher office. Congressman Pallone's name has been in the mix for two different statewide positions up for election in the next two years: U.S. Senator and New Jersey Governor.
Pallone's new district has not changed very much in the new map. It still runs along the coastline, mostly in a thin strip, through Monmouth County, but balloons out to include Hazlet and Marlboro, and then gets real thin again, before ballooning once again to encompass a sizable portion of Middlesex County including: the Amboys, Edison, Woodbridge, and Piscataway, and other communities.
New Brunswick will now sit at the very edge of the new 6th district, as a portion of Franklin Township that Pallone currently represents has been moved to Holt's 12th District, which now encompasses all of Franklin. Overall, the new map decreased the number of towns that were divided between multiple districts, according to PolitickerNJ.com.
Holt's district now snakes through Bound Brook to make its way to the strong urban Democratic base of Plainfield, which was part of Pallone's turf on the old map. The 12th also includes Trenton, Princeton, and the other Brunswicks: East, North, and South.
If one were to drive from New Brunswick to Pallone's home in Long Branch via Route 18, it would take approximately 48 minutes and one would travel primarily through two other Congressional districts, Holt's 12th, and the 4th. The 4th is represented by Chris Smith, a Republican.
For his part, Pallone has operated a congressional satellite office on Church Street in New Brunswick, in addition to his Long Branch satellite office. He regularly hosts events to meet constituents at the New Brunswick office, and often attends major events in the city. Pallone frequently campaigns in New Brunswick as it is so heavily Democratic.
In the 2010 election, Pallone defeated his opponent, the Republican Mayor of Highlands, Anna Little, 55%-43%, primarily because of strong support from Middlesex County voters.