Opponents of the city’s new district maps got their wish for another round of public hearings thanks to Assemblymember Vito Lopez, though confidence significant changes will be made remains low.
When the city’s Districting Commission unveiled the maps on November 16, District 34 was redrawn to include the residence of the embattled assemblymember, reportedly at the request of Councilmember Erik Dilan, allowing Lopez a path to run for City Council. Following a letter from Council Speaker Christine Quinn to withdraw the map, the commission announced at a public meeting on Tuesday, December 4, that Lopez would be moved back into District 37, though he was not mentioned by name, and a new round of public hearings would take place.
“We wanted a third round of hearings, we demanded a third round of hearings, so it’s good we have an opportunity to make further changes to the map. It is in sort of an unexpected way, but here we are,” said Jerry Vattamala, attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense Fund (AALDEF), who added he’s not convinced any adjustments will be made.
The apparent reason for the map’s withdrawal, placing Lopez back in District 37, does not preclude him running in District 34. Lopez would only have to move within the district’s boundaries prior to Election Day to be eligible to run for the seat.
Mitchell Gardens and the Linden Houses were also voted to both be placed in District 20 at the meeting after an error separated them.
While former state Senator Frank Padavan agreed with the two changes made, he questioned voting on only portions of the map.
“Why are we doing the vote piecemeal? It doesn’t make sense to me. If we take a vote it should be what we end up with because a vote here implies that’s all we want to do,” he said at the meeting.
Woodhaven advocate Ed Wendell also wondered whether the commission will actually go back to the drawing board.
“We’re not optimistic at this point, but we’re going to do our best so our needs are heard loud and clear,” he said.
Lack of transparency has led to the lowered expectations people have in the process, said Rachael Fauss, policy and research manager for Citizens Union.
“Any process suffers from legitimacy and public perception when you have political actors who seemingly are circumventing the process,” she said.
New public hearings have yet to be announced, though they will likely be held in January. The commission will then approve and submit a new map to the City Council which will have three weeks to object to it.
Though confidence is lacking, Vattamala said the commission has one last chance to produce a well-crafted map.
“Regardless of what’s happened thus far, if they can pull it together and correct the districts that need correcting, I think we’ll be in good shape and it will restore people’s confidence in the commission and the process,” Vattamala said.