Brooklyn Boro

Leaders hope for majority-Asian district in Bensonhurst

October 9, 2021 By Clifford Michel, THE CITY
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Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY.

When the state’s new Independent Redistricting Commission split along party lines and put out dueling maps in mid-September, attention focused on clashing visions for congressional boundaries with the House of Representatives up for grabs last year.

Not as widely noticed were two versions of maps for the state Legislature — including a Democratic-crafted edition that would create four districts in the city where the growing ranks of Asian American New Yorkers represent a majority or plurality of residents.

The maps are preliminary — and the out-of-the-gate war being waged by the 10 members of the supposedly nonpartisan commission bodes for a messy process that ultimately could get tossed to the Democrat-dominated state Legislature.

Still, some local Asian American leaders see hopes for a political coming of age.

The Democrats’ map reflects “responsive action to address the concerns of the Asian American community consistent with the Voting Rights Act and the need to keep communities of interest together,” said Elizabeth OuYang, who coordinates a redistricting task force made up of 20 Asian community groups across the city.

Activists in Brooklyn and Queens –– where the Asian population has grown by nearly 43 percent and 29 percent, respectively, since 2010 –– have been lobbying the new state commission to redraw district lines to unite neighborhoods with high numbers of Asian residents into single districts.

There are currently several areas in the two boroughs that divide Asian population centers into various state Assembly and Senate districts. The fragmentation leads to struggles to capture the attention of elected officials — makes it harder to get public services, activists argue.

The once-in-a-decade redrawing, fueled by last year’s census, spurred legislative maps for the city in which Republicans left things largely the same while the Democrats proposed some districts where New York Asians represent a majority or plurality:

  • A state Senate seat for Sunset Park and Bensonhurst
  • A state Assembly slot to serve Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park
  • An Assembly slot to serve Briarwood and Jamaica Hills
  • An Assembly slot to serve Elmhurst
A growing Asian American presence on Avenue U in Brooklyn.
Wikimedia photo by Jim Henderson

‘Keeps the Neighborhood Whole’

In Brooklyn, a borough with no Asian elected state officials, map makers proposed a state Senate district where Asian residents would make up 45% of the population. Activists sought to seize upon significant Asian population growth in southern Brooklyn neighborhoods to create the borough’s first Asian-majority district.

Many states, including New York, directly encourage that communities of interest — groups of voters likely to share political priorities — remain together when election district maps are drawn.

“From a neighborhood that is currently divided into four Senate districts, we now see more consolidated representation that keeps the neighborhood whole along with communities of interest in Bensonhurst,” said Mon Yuck Yu, vice president and chief of staff of the Academy of Medical and Professional Health Services, a nonprofit based in Sunset Park.

Over the past decade, the number of Asian residents in Brooklyn increased by more than 110,000, to nearly 371,000, far outpacing any other racial group, U.S. Census figures show.

Yet, nonprofits and civic groups told THE CITY that it’s hard to get the ear of elected officials as Asian residents are outnumbered in every single Assembly and Senate district as currently drawn in Brooklyn.

“There is a possibility to create the first Asian-majority district in Brooklyn. However, these lines are still short of doing so. We will work with the commission in the coming months to explore the implications of the 43% growth in Asian population in Brooklyn,” said Yu.

Incumbents Could Hold Key

On the state Senate side, a pair of incumbents — Diane Savino and Zellnor Myrie — previously told THE CITY that they believed that the way lines are currently drawn in southern Brooklyn neighborhoods with a significant number of Asian residents is unfair.

Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, whose district includes Borough Park and Midwood, both home to growing Asian populations, said he was fine with how his district currently is.

The early dysfunction could embolden Democrats in the state Legislature to take over the process from the commission. To do this, the Legislature will have to reject the final maps twice.

The commission will kick off a second series of 14 public hearings on Oct. 20, The commissioners will then distill that input into a new version of the maps. It remains to be seen whether the Democratic and GOP appointees to the commission will put forward a single set of maps this time, rather than competing ones again.

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