Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, enter the “red mirage.”
The phrase was coined before election night this year to remind people that Republican candidates across the country could gain a lead that would later evaporate after mail-in ballots were counted. And that is exactly what happened, including in my neighborhood of Bay Ridge. Now that the foggy mirage of Republican victories in Brooklyn has lifted with state Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus being re-elected after being down thousands of votes on election night, let’s take a moment to look at what happened and why.
The morning after Election Day, Bay Ridge woke up to two things that didn’t make much sense. While it was pretty clear Joe Biden was going to be our next President, it looked like Gounardes and Frontus had somehow lost! While President Donald Trump losing was certainly celebrated, potentially losing these important local Democratic seats was troubling. Calls and concerned texts asked: “Is it possible Bay Ridge is Republican again?!,” and “Did our neighborhood go ‘red!?” Fortunately, a time machine would have to make that happen, because once all the absentee ballots were counted, Gounardes and Frontus went on to secure victory. In fact, Gounardes won by three times more than he did in 2018!
In fact, not only did Gounardes improve on his 2018 victory, he won about 75 percent of the vote in Bay Ridge. Biden did similarly well, an improvement on President Barack Obama’s 20-point victories in 2008 and 2012. Let that sink in for a moment. Today, a Republican could not get elected dog catcher in most of Bay Ridge. Yet the myth of Bay Ridge being a conservative stronghold still widely persists. The reason for the fable is actually simple: it’s called gerrymandering; a process that allows politicians to choose their voters. The opposite of democracy.
Over the decades, the State Senate districts have been systematically drawn to disenfranchise Bay Ridge and dilute the Democratic vote. The district that Sen. Gounardes represents includes distant, conservative neighborhoods, like Gerritsen and Manhattan Beach. This was done to benefit former Senator Marty Golden, who was first elected in 2002 in a district that was gerrymandered specifically so he could run and defeat the incumbent Democrat Vincent Gentile.
The Assembly is no better. Since 1982, not one person who calls Bay Ridge home has served a day in the Assembly. Bay Ridge districts have been cut up to include Sunset Park, Carroll Gardens, Borough Park, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, and, of course, Staten Island. The worst part is that Bay Ridge is big enough to be its own Assembly district, which is how it was before 1982. Talk about disenfranchisement!
Fortunately, 2022 is going to see new district lines that are now mandated to be drawn in a fair, equitable, and non-partisan manner. Democrats should welcome these fair lines. There is no reason to game the system, like Republicans did for decades. Drawn fairly, both the Senate and Assembly districts will continue to elect Democrats, especially if Democrats serve their communities well. The new boundaries will not just benefit a political party, but the entire neighborhood. And it should also finally put to rest the notion that Bay Ridge is anything but a strong Democratic neighborhood.
Chris McCreight is the Democratic District Leader for the 64th A.D. and President of Bay Ridge Democrats.