Redistricting Ax Could Fall on Ackerman

Veteran Democrat Might Have to Battle in Weiner's Old District

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published January 10, 2012, issue of January 13, 2012.
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As New York draws new congressional lines, Gary Ackerman, an influential House voice on Middle East issues, is at risk of losing his seat to redistricting.

Rep. Gary Ackerman
courtesy of gary ackerman
Rep. Gary Ackerman

New York’s byzantine redistricting process is months away from completion. What is clear is that before New Yorkers go to the polls in November, the state will have two fewer seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. And scuttlebutt among political operatives has Ackerman’s seat on the short list of those that are threatened.

New York Democratic political strategist Hank Sheinkopf wasn’t making any predictions, but he said that Ackerman’s district is “a logical place” for a congressional seat to be eliminated. He said that Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s Long Island district is alternatively at risk. Sheinkopf and others pointed to crowding among Long Island congressional districts and to Ackerman’s relative lack of clout in local Democratic politics.

Observers say Ackerman could end up fighting with newly elected Republican Rep. Bob Turner, who last fall won the seat long held by Anthony Weiner.

Ackerman, who has been a member of Congress since 1983, downplayed the risk to his political future. “I don’t need to make a case for myself,” the congressman said. “I’ll run in the district carved out where I’ll run the strongest.”

Known for the white carnation he wears daily on his lapel, Ackerman was the most recent Democratic chair of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. That makes him a point person in the House on issues relating to Israel. Ackerman also sits on the influential Foreign Affairs Committee and has been a proponent of Iran sanctions.

Ackerman has taken a hard line on key Middle East issues. At a September meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he threatened to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority over Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to pursue Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. Ackerman also supported new sanctions against Iran’s central bank in December, calling for the “toughest, most crippling, most unbearably painful sanctions possible.” President Obama signed sanctions against the central bank into law on January 1.

A former ally of the dovish pro-Israel group J Street, Ackerman received the lobby’s endorsement in 2010. But he publicly rebuked the organization in 2011 over its recommendation that the United States not veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity, calling J Street “so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.”


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