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Uncertainty still clouds NY’s 23rd Congressional District special election, as deadline nears

A purple and gray map of New York State congressional districts.
NYS Independent Redistricting Commission

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has yet to call a special election for the 23rd Congressional District after Rep. Tom Reed resigned last week, as Republicans remain perplexed about how to handle filling the vacancy.

Under New York state statute, the governor must schedule a special election within 10 days after a seat in congress is vacated, meaning Hochul must call the 23rd District by Friday. That election must then take place between 70-80 days later, setting up for an election between July 29 and Aug. 8.

Republicans especially are hoping for clarity to come Friday, with a judge in Steuben County also set to finalize the new congressional district lines for this year’s general election.

As with seemingly everything with New York’s elections at the moment, the new district lines have presented a tricky situation for Republicans in the Southern Tier. Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-22), as well as George Phillips and Raymond Juliano, filed petitions to run as Republicans in the 23rd District before the Legislature’s maps were scrapped.

Under the new draft maps released by the special master redrawing the districts Monday, the 23rd District only runs to the eastern edge of Chemung County, over a hundred miles from Tenney’s home. The 23rd District also would extend to the suburbs south of Buffalo, where Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-27) currently resides.

Tenney and Jacobs would have to resign their current seats in order to take office in the 23rd District, if they successfully run in the special, meaning the door could be opened for another candidate.

Shortly after Reed announced his resignation, Joseph Sempolinski, a former staffer for the congressman and chair of the Steuben County Republican Committee announced he would put his name forward to run in the special. Sempolinksi had announced a bid for Congress last year, but agreed not to challenge Tenney in a primary.

“We are well beyond anything that anyone ever contemplated as far as levels of uncertainty. So obviously, more certainty sooner is better,” Sempolinski told WSKG.

Sempolinski said he and other GOP chairs, who will nominate the special election candidate, are waiting until the solidifying of the district maps Friday before making a decision. He didn’t say whether he would run in the general election if nominated for the special.

“If we end up in a situation where there’s an opportunity to run for a full term, that’s what I got into in the first place, the opportunity to run for a full term. If there’s not, there’s not,” Sempolinski said.

While Democrats face a notably uphill battle to win a summer special election in a seat that Reed carried in 2020 by over 16 points, they have been quicker to unite behind a single candidate in Max Della Pia.

Steuben County Democratic Committee Chairman Shawn Hogan told WSKG that he and other chairs in the 23rd District intend to announce Della Pia as their nominee for the special election Friday.

Della Pia currently serves as Tioga County Democratic Committee Chairman and narrowly lost a crowded Democratic primary in the 23rd District to Tracy Mitrano in 2018.

Tioga County was included in the 19th Congressional District under the special master’s draft maps. But a spokesperson for Della Pia’s campaign said he will also run in the 23rd District in the general election.

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-26) is also narrowly included in the 23rd Congressional District under the special master’s draft maps, but he wrote on Twitter that he’d run in his current Buffalo district.