By Alexander Dworkowitz
Redistricting proposed by the state Legislature could create a new state assembly district in downtown Flushing and another one in Jackson Heights while eliminating a state senate post in Queens.
A task force of state politicians released preliminary sketches of new state senate and state assembly districts Friday that if passed, could bring more minorities from Queens into the Assembly and eliminate the seat held by two-term State Sen. Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills).
However, one advocacy group said the new district lines do not go far enough to ensure that Asian Americans have proper political representation.
Due to changes in the population recorded in the 2000 census, the state has to redraw its district lines. The census showed that the population of Queens grew by 14.2 percent since 1990 to 2,229,379 residents, while the overall city grew by 9.4 percent, and the state grew by only 5.5 percent.
Based on the analysis of the census numbers, the task force recommended the creation of Assembly District 22 in Flushing and Assembly District 39 in Jackson Heights.
But the task force also suggested moving Hevesi’s 13th state Senate District, which covers parts of Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens, Kew Gardens Hills and Fresh Meadows out of Queens. Hevesi would see much of his district combined with Toby Stavisky’s (D-Flushing) 16th Senate District, which covers parts of Flushing, Whitestone, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst and Woodside.
The new senate district would cover parts of Astoria, Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, Flushing, Whitestone, Bay Terrace, Fresh Meadows and Jamaica Estates.
However, Hevesi said he expected the final district lines to differ from the current proposal.
“I have every expectation that the lines that came out last week will not be the final lines,” said Hevesi. “Ten years ago after the census was taken, preliminary lines had my predecessor, Manny Gold, and Toby Stavisky’s predecessor, Leonard Stavisky, running in the same district. Ultimately, the districts were divided into the district I represent today and the district Toby represents today.”
Hevesi said he thought it was likely that the same scenario would take place this year.
“If that doesn’t happen, there will certainly be lawsuits questioning the constitutionality and legality of the changes,” he said.
In a statement, Stavisky indicated she plans to run for re-election, saying, “I look forward to continuing to represent my neighbors in the 16th Senate District.”
The task force will have to finalize the district lines over the next two months, since the new districts are supposed to take effect for this year’s state senate and assembly elections.
As the proposal stands now, the two new assembly districts in Queens would represent areas in which two minority populations would become the majority within the district.
The proposed Assembly District 22 for Flushing would be nearly 53 percent Asian and the suggested District 39 in Jackson Heights would be 65 percent Hispanic.
Ethel Chen, the at-large district leader who narrowly lost the Flushing city council Democratic primary to John Liu (D-Flushing) last year, said she is considering running for Flushing’s new assembly seat if it is established.
“It has a great potential to produce an Asian candidate,” said Chen.
Adrian Joyce, the former chairman of Community Board 7, which covers Whitestone, Flushing and College Point, also expressed interest in the possible seat.
“I’m looking into it,” said Joyce. “But I really want to see how it shakes out.”
While happy about the possibility of an Asian-American speaking for Flushing in the Assembly, members of the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund were frustrated that more districts were not formed to represent the common interests of Asian-American groups throughout Queens.
“It’s a blatant disregard for the Asian-American community,” said Glenn Magpantay, staff attorney for AALDEF.
Magpantay pointed to Richmond Hill, which has a large Sikh and Indo-Guyanese population. Rather than uniting those communities under one district, they are divided into five separate assembly districts, reducing the possibility a candidate from one of those communities would be elected, he said.
Many parts of the proposal, such as Flushing gaining an assembly seat while having its state senate seat combined with another district, seem incongruous.
The reason for such changes is found in the politics of the state Legislature.
Since 1974, Republicans have controlled the state Senate, while Democrats have controlled the Assembly. Both houses of the Legislature as well as the governor and the U.S. Department of Justice, must approve any redistricting. In order to avoid a deadlock, the Senate has traditionally allowed the Assembly to redraw lines favorable to Democrats, while the Democratic Assembly has allowed the Senate to reconfigure lines favorable to Republicans.
This year the state is calling for one state senator for every 306,072 New Yorkers, and one Assembly person for every 126,510 New Yorkers. However, the districts are allowed to vary from these numbers by 5 percent, allowing legislators to toy with the size and shape of districts.
For example, the proposed district that would combine parts of Stavisky’s and Hevesi’s districts would have 318,478 residents within it, 4 percent more than the average number. The proposed district is traditionally Democratic, while historically Republican state senate seats in upstate New York have less than 300,000 residents within them. The end result of the process is that one party can have politicians representing a substantially smaller population than the other party.
–Daniel Massey contributed to this story.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.