Mapmaking

Rep. Marie Newman at risk in Illinois redistricting

One of nine representatives to vote against Iron Dome funding, a proposed new map makes Newman’s seat more competitive

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Marie Newman, candidate for Congress in IL-03, speaks during event to receive the endorsement of Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018.

Democrats in Illinois are poised to expand their party’s majority in the state’s congressional delegation. They’re also putting one of their own — left-wing freshman Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) — at risk of losing her seat, won in a hard-fought primary against one of the most conservative members of the Democratic Party.

Although Illinois is losing a congressional seat following the 2020 Census, Illinois Democrats’ draft redistricting map awards Democrats one more seat than they currently have in the state.

Newman defeated eight-term incumbent Democrat Rep. Dan Lipinski last year in the state’s 3rd Congressional District, with a campaign that focused on abortion access given Lipinski’s pro-life beliefs.

Since arriving in Washington, Newman has also garnered attention for her position on Israel. Last month, she joined eight Democrats in voting against a $1 billion supplemental funding package for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. 

The newly proposed map, which was released last week by the Democrat-controlled Illinois House Redistricting Committee, would add a rural, working-class area to Newman’s otherwise urban Chicago district. Newman has criticized the proposed map, although the new district would still lean Democratic. 

The redistricting map “is not only retrogressive but substantially diminishes the diverse and progressive voices of Chicago’s Southwest Side and suburbs,” Newman said in a statement

Frank Calabrese, a Chicago-area political consultant and mapmaker, said that the biggest change to Newman’s district is not that it would lose progressive constituents, but that it would gain conservative ones. With Illinois losing a congressional seat in the redistricting process, each of the 17 remaining districts will have larger populations than the current districts. 

“The thing is, all the congressional districts have to be bigger now, because Illinois lost a district. So [Newman’s district] expanded. It really didn’t lose, as much as it gained,” Calabrese said. “The district was never created to be a progressive district. It was created to elect Dan Lipinski. And if you’re familiar with Dan Lipinski, he was not a progressive.”

The newly drawn 3rd District would include the home of Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), a moderate Republican who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump earlier this year and who currently represents the nearby 16th District. Illinois allows members of Congress to run in a district where they do not reside, but after the map was released, Kinzinger issued a statement that said he was considering whether to run again. “Following the release of the new congressional maps for Illinois, my team and I will spend some time looking them over and reviewing all of the options, including those outside the House,” Kinzinger said.  

The new map, which is being debated in the state legislature this week, could still be changed. Some Democratic activists have argued that the members of the redistricting committee should go even further in favoring Democrats, by drawing 15 Democratic-leaning districts and two Republican-leaning districts. (The map currently being debated gives 14 seats to Democratic-leaning districts and three to Republican; right now Illinois has 13 Democratic representatives and five Republicans.)

“Until a final thing is put in front of the state legislature and it’s voted upon, it’s all up in the air. It could be modified,” said Oren Jacobson, a progressive Jewish activist in Chicago who has worked with Newman on pro-choice issues. “A new version could be put up today. It may not be 15 to two, where there’s a fair amount of reconfiguring. It may just be small pockets that get shifted around the edges of these districts to make one district more favorable.”

Newman’s district would remain Democratic, but less blue than it currently is. 

“In this new district, it’s conceivable that she could be vulnerable in a primary and in the general, especially in a midterm election, when you have no idea whether or not the Democratic base will be mobilized, and you would expect the Republican base to be super energized, given that they’re the party out of power,” added Jacobson. 

Chicago has one of the largest Palestinian communities in the United States, and Newman’s current district includes roughly 110,000 Arab Americans, more than half of whom are of Palestinian descent. She represents one of the smallest Jewish populations in the region. 

The new map of the district “​​maintains what I would consider all of the Middle Eastern, Palestinian community,” Calabrese said. 

In her campaign for Congress, Newman was endorsed by J Street, while Democratic Majority for Israel sat the race out, offering no endorsement. Lipinski is reportedly considering another run for the seat, but has not commented publicly on the matter.

J Street, which supported the $1 billion in Iron Dome supplemental aid, hosted a fundraiser for Newman a couple weeks after the vote. A J Street spokesperson told Jewish Insider at the time that the organization “is proud to endorse Rep. Newman, who throughout her time in Congress has been a vocal and principled advocate for diplomacy-first American leadership and Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Daniel Goldwin, executive director of Chicago’s Jewish Community Relations Council, told JI his organization was “profoundly disappointed in Rep. Newman’s vote against supplemental funding to replenish Iron Dome, a defensive technology that has saved countless Jewish, Muslim, and Christian lives and helped to avoid significant conflict escalation.”

A spokesperson for Newman did not respond to a request for comment on the new map or on her vote against Iron Dome funding. In a speech last month to the Palestine American Club in Chicago, Newman urged community members to lobby their elected officials.

“Start talking to senators. Remember, in Congress, in the House of Representatives, we only have the purse that we can deal with. We [members of Congress] can only say yea or nay to money,” she told attendees. “That is why the Iron Dome vote is important, right? It is to say, ‘No, Israel. You can’t have another billion dollars.’ What we have to do is start talking to people who actually make policy.”

Jacobson said Newman’s vote against Iron Dome funding came as a surprise even to Newman’s more progressive allies in the Jewish community. A position paper she released during her campaign for Congress said she would “support ongoing aid and resources to both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.” She also came out in favor of conditioning U.S. foreign aid to Israel on the campaign trail, but told JI at the time that “I do not support the global BDS movement period.”

“I do think the Iron Dome vote has the potential to change and erode some of the support that she has had from more progressive Jews,” Jacobson acknowledged. “But that’s not a wholesale thing. I just think I’ve heard from enough people who have supported her — and who have supported her substantially in the past — that they don’t feel comfortable publicly doing so again or right now because of the Iron Dome bill.”

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