The Amazing Political History of NY-23

(Truly tremendous work. From the diaries with minor edits – promoted by DavidNYC)

I love political geography and political history. So, something seemed out of line when I recently read diaries on several sites regarding the soon-to-be vacancy of New York’s 23rd Congressional District, made possible by the appointment of John McHugh to become Secretary of the Army. Several diaries mentioned that the district hasn’t been represented by a Democrat in a quarter-century or so. Perhaps parts of the district haven’t elected a Democrat in 25 or so years, but it seemed to me that most of the district hasn’t been Democratic-held since much earlier times. I decided to do a little research.

It turns out that NY-23 is a true political anomaly. It is one of only two remaining districts in the United States where at least part of the district has not been represented by a Democrat since 1852 (the other is Pennsylvania’s 16th District, which includes Lancaster County, most of which has not been represented by a Democrat since 1830. Tennessee’s 2nd District last elected a Democrat in 1852. There no longer are any comparable Democratic-held districts; all have gone Republican at least once since 1850, although a few in Texas held out until the DeLay redistricting of 2004.)

If Democrats win NY-23 in a special election to be held later this year, certain parts of this district will be represented by a Democrat for the first time in 159 years. The map below gives you an idea of how long it’s been since parts of the district have been Democratic-held. Almost two-thirds of the population of the current district (62%) live in territory that has not elected a Democrat since 1890 or earlier. It really is mind-boggling. (For those political geeks interested in more history about this district, I provide additional information below the map.)

Perhaps what got a few commentators confused regarding this district in diaries I read (other than often-confusing district numbering) was the fact that the district has only been around in its present “single-district” form since the 1940’s. Since that time, it has always included Jefferson, St. Lawrence, and Franklin Counties, as well as Lewis Co. (except for 1971-73), and Oswego Co. (except for 1945-53 and 1983-93). Clinton Co. and most of Essex Co. have also been part of the district since 1969 and 1971, respectively. The other, more peripheral counties have been part of this district only briefly over the last 60 or so years. Between 1883 and 1943, there were basically two districts here – a “western” one, encompassing Jefferson, Oswego, Lewis, and Madison, and an “eastern” one, encompassing St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, and Essex – although during one period of time, redistricting created three districts centered in what is now NY-23. Prior to 1883, what is now NY-23 was part of four or more different districts.

Since the 1856 election (when the Republican party entered the political arena), the territory in what is now NY-23 has almost exclusively been represented by the GOP. In fact, the last Democrat elected to represent St. Lawrence Co. in Congress was a man named Francis Spinner, elected in 1854. He ran successfully for re-election as a Republican in 1856 and was later appointed as Treasurer of the United States by Abraham Lincoln. The last Democrat to represent Jefferson Co. was even earlier – Willard Ives, elected in 1850. The most amazing fact I found was regarding Franklin Co. The last Democrat elected to represent that county was Joseph Russell, also in 1850. In 1852, the district that then included Franklin elected George Simmons, a member of the Whig party. Therefore, Franklin Co. has been more recently represented in Congress by a WHIG (1854) than by a Democrat (1852)!

I wasn’t going to go into the current political situation in NY-23 at all in this diary, but one fact caught my eye while researching the info here. It is interesting that Darrrell Aubertine (who represents Oswego, Jefferson and part of St. Lawrence in the State Senate – equivalent to approximately 45% of the population of NY-23) is the first Democrat elected to his State Senate seat since 1880. (By the way, no other State Senator represents as high a percentage of NY-23 as Aubertine; GOP Senator Joe Griffo represents about 15% and doesn’t even live in NY-23; while GOP Senator Betty Little represents about 25% and also doesn’t live in the congressional district; two others represent the remainder.) Aubertine would certainly make a formidable candidate for us. However, I also understand the need to keep the State Senate in Democratic hands. NY-23 voted for Obama by 52-47, so this election will be competitive. Hopefully, we will find a good candidate and make him or her the first Democrat elected to Congress here in a long, long time.

Sources for information:

68 thoughts on “The Amazing Political History of NY-23”

  1. Isn’t Pat Leahy the only Democratic Senator it’s ever had? Has a Democrat ever held Sanders’s seat? My guess is no.  

  2. corresponding to Atlanta hasn’t elected a Republican since Reconstruction. Of course, the Democrats it used to elect were nothing like John Lewis. . .

  3. the 19th century parts are more liberal than the 20th century parts. I seem to recall the 3 northern counties have been strongly Democratic in the past several presidential elections.

  4. Does anyone know if there’s a county/district with one party rule longer than Franklin/Jefferson?  Knox County, Tennessee is 1855.  Some parts of Republican pro-Unionist Kentucky, maybe?

  5. confused why David and others keep suggesting this district to be eliminated; its just odd. The southern tier has lost much more population and eliminating Christopher Lee’s district makes so much more sense all around. Why mess with NY-23? Its a good thing, moving further towards Democrats, Aubertine’s election is really strengthening and organizing them there, and yes, I think he would be a great candidate and should run, a house seat is more important. The GOP machine is broken, period. They can’t hold on to the house in 2010 even if they take Aubertine’s seat, too many vulnerable seats and, I believe they took one Democratic seat due to scandal that Democrats should win back.

  6. I absolutely loved this post.  By all means, keep up the good work!  Incidentally, how in the world did you get such clean, visually pleasing maps on a topic as obscure as congressional apportionment?

Comments are closed.