Districting Commission hears objections to its map

October 15, 2012 Helen Klein
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Dozens of Brooklynites converged on Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights on Thursday, October 11, to make their concerns about proposed City Council district lines known to the New York City Districting Commission, which is charged with drawing the new lines, in the wake of the 2010 Census.

Representatives of the Asian-American community in Sunset Park and Bensonhurst; the Orthodox Jewish community in Boro Park, Midwood, Madison, Frasier Square and beyond; the Russian-speaking community in southern Brooklyn; the Caribbean and African-American community in Canarsie; Bangladeshi residents from City Line and East New York; and residents of Victorian Flatbush were among those who asked the commission to reconsider the proposal now on the table.

A huge concern that many of the speakers articulated was the dilution of power for particular voting blocs that could occur should some of the lines be solidified.

Asian-Americans attending the hearing – like many others who spoke – urged the commission to adopt the so-called Unity Map that had been drawn and presented by a coalition of groups representing Asian-Americans, Latinos and African-Americans.

This, said Joan Gibbs, general counsel for the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers, would “create equally sized districts within 10 percent deviation [of population] in compliance with the ‘One Person – One Vote’ requirement of the U.S. Constitution,” as well as “protect the voting rights of the three protected groups in New York City: Blacks, Hispanics and Asians, in compliance with…the federal Voting Rights Act.”

In southwest Brooklyn, the Unity Map would consolidate Asian-American voters from Sunset Park and Bensonhurst into two districts. They are currently split among five districts, and the map proposed by the Districting Commission would reduce that to four.

Kim Wong, who delivered the recommendations of the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy, stressed, “It is imperative that the City Council districts be re-drawn so that Asian-American voters are no longer being disenfranchised, and their collective voices made ineffective in their elections.”

In Brooklyn, Wong said, over the past decade, there has been a 40 percent “overall increase” in the Asian-American population, and a 46 percent increase in the number of voting age Asian-Americans, and she added, “Being divided among multiple districts – the fracturing or ‘cracking’ of minority populations – is today the greatest problem New York City’s Asian-Americans are facing in our current district lines and in the preliminary map released last month.”

Steve Chung, the president of the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn, agreed. “Building Asian-American influence into one district is not the goal,” he said, stressing that by splitting Asian-Americans into two districts, within a decade, given the existing rate of growth of the population, the districts could both be “majority minority districts.”

In addition, residents from Boro Park objected to consolidating residents in a single council district, the 44th, now represented by Councilmember David Greenfield.

Two councilmembers – Greenfield and Brad Lander (whose district is the 39th) — now represent Boro Park, which means, residents and activists said, that two councilmembers bring in funding to local organizations and speak out on behalf of local issues.

“We oppose the proposal to create a Super Jewish District,” said Avi Spitzer, the COO of the Sephardic Community Federation.

On the other hand, speakers from the Orthodox community also expressed concern that areas that had been in the same district on the last council map would be split into separate districts. “There are two ways of diluting the voice of a community,” warned Joel Rosenfeld, a lifelong Boro Park resident. “One way is to split the community into several districts. The other way is to put the whole community into one district.”

Another speaker on behalf of the Unity Map, Michael Roberts, contended that the districts, as they are currently proposed, defer to the desires of elected officials and would-be elected officials. “The proposed lines would crack districts and split communities of interest,” he asserted. They would also, he said, “let politicians pick and choose their voters.”

Not everyone spoke in favor of deferring to the unification of voting blocs, however. Paul Schubert urged the commission to create districts that were essentially rectangular and contained the goal population of 160,000, regardless of whether “people who don’t dress like us, or eat the same food grandma cooks, or go to the same religious institution represent us.

“Everyone in the rectangle would be represented equally, as was the original desire of the founding fathers and the writers of the state and city charter.,” Schubert contended.

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