New York Redistricting: The Big Apple's Small But Notable Growth

When I was working on a story a couple of months ago about the role of local governments in the Census, I talked with a ...
by | April 20, 2010

When I was working on a story a couple of months ago about the role of local governments in the Census, I talked with a person who has a supremely interesting job. Joseph Salvo is the head of New York City's population division, meaning it's his responsibility to figure out how many people are living in the Big Apple at any given time.

That's obviously a difficult task, but Salvo is (so far as I can tell) quite good at it. In the run up to this year's decennial count, Salvo's office identified around 127,000 addresses that the Census Bureau was missing from its list. Those addresses probably have around 300,000 people, almost enough for the city to grab a full State Senate seat from the rest of the state in redistricting.

Democrats currently control the Senate by the thinnest 32-30 margin. New York City Senate seats are much more likely to elect Democrats than those located in the rest of the state. It's easy to imagine a scenario where this extra seat is what provides Democrats with their majority after the 2012 election -- all because of a career local government official who, for all I know, could be a Republican.

Salvo told me that he expects that, with his additions, the Census Bureau address list is large enough to support his current estimate for New York City's population: 8.4 million people, up from 8 million in 2000. Compared to lots of places in Texas or California, that's quite a slow pace of growth. But, it's fast enough that New York City is New York's fastest growing region. To continue my series on intrastate population trends, let's look at the rest of the numbers from New York.

I slice New York into four regions. Three are obvious: New York City, Long Island and Upstate. I consider Rockland County and Westchester County to be their own region (not part of Upstate) because of their economic and cultural orientation toward New York City and because I don't want to upset the proprietors of this Facebook group. So, we have "Rockchester" (not to be confused with Rochester). New Yorkers: Please tell me if I'm committing a grave injustice by creating a new region of your state. And, would "Lowest Hudson Valley" have been a better name?

Here's the population change over the last nine years in each of those regions, as well as Barack Obama's performance in 2008.

New York Regions

I'm not surprised that New York City is growing faster than Upstate. But, before I crunched the numbers, I definitely wouldn't have expected it to be growing faster than the suburban jurisdictions. Between 1950 and 1980, New York City lost 800,000 people. Now, if the Census confirms these numbers (the city's current response rates aren't exactly a source for optimism), we'll be able to say that New York City has gained 1.3 million people over the last 30 years.

As you can see, Obama won every region of the state, but only in New York City did he perform better than his statewide average. So, overall, the population trends are favorable for Democrats. But, if you dig into the numbers for particular counties/boroughs, the news gets somewhat better for Republicans.

Here is the population change of New York 20 largest counties, which collectively have about 85% of the state's population, along with Obama's performance in 2008 and Eliot Spitzer's gubernatorial performance in 2006 (when he won 69.56% of the vote statewide).

New York Largest

New York City's fastest growth is in Staten Island, which is easily the most Republican borough and which is substantially more Republican than the state as a whole. Republicans also should be comforted by the rapid growth in Suffolk County, Orange County and Saratoga County.

Republicans don't always win in those counties, but any Republican with a hope to win statewide must win those places. So, from the G.O.P.'s perspective, it's better that the growth take place there than elsewhere. Democrats should be happy that the New York City's other four boroughs -- each much larger than Staten Island and each overwhelmingly Democratic -- all are growing faster than the state as a whole too.

Overall, there's no reason for too much excitement about the population shifts that have taken place in New York over the last decade. In Texas, some counties had seen their populations increase by 50% or more, while others were shrinking. In New York, the shifts are much more subtle.

The shifts may work slightly to Democrats' advantage, but what would work far more to the party's advantage would be to have complete control of the redistricting process, unlike in 2000. To prevent that from happening, Republicans will be working feverishly this fall to end Democrats' tenuous hold on the state Senate.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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