By Dustin Brown
Despite pleas by Ridgewood residents to maintain their neighborhood in one City Council district, the Districting Commission finalized a set of new boundaries last week that put even more Queens residents into a predominantly Brooklyn district than originally planned.
The commission forwarded its final version of the council maps to the city clerk and the city Board of Elections on Tuesday after approving it at a Feb. 26 meeting, spokesman Richard Wager said. The plan will be submitted sometime next week to the U.S. Department of Justice, which must give its approval before petitioning begins for this year's council elections.
Charged with redrawing the City Council district boundaries to account for 2000 census figures, the Districting Commission removed the southern part of Ridgewood from Councilman Dennis Gallagher's (R-Middle Village) 30th District and added it to the 34th District represented by Diana Reyna (D-Williamsburg), which now lies exclusively in Brooklyn.
But Ridgewood community leaders, already angry about the plan, lashed out even further upon discovering that the commission's final version puts 1,000 more Ridgewood residents into Reyna's district, an eleventh-hour change that was never subjected to public input. The revised area is a triangle of about four square blocks bounded by Myrtle Avenue, Forest Avenue and Decatur Street.
“We would love to know what the explanation for that was,” said Monsignor Edward Scharfenberger, a pastor at St. Matthias Roman Catholic Church, who staunchly opposes the division of Ridgewood. “It was never discussed publicly and suddenly it's there.”
Wager said the change was part of the final tweaking done in many parts of the city.
“Adjustments occurred to districts citywide,” he said.
Ridgewood residents came out in force to the commission's last Queens public hearing on Feb. 18 to protest the plan, carrying signs and shouting their opposition in a reprise of their November performance at an earlier hearing.
But both times the commission came back with plans that put even more Queens residents into the 34th District. The draft approved in December dropped a handful of Councilman Eric Gioia's (D-Woodside) Maspeth constituents into Reyna's district, a change that was later erased when the commission acknowledged it as a clerical error.
Ridgewood organizers said they plan to continue their fight as the Justice Department assesses the plan over the next two months.
“We have that window to put together our case and present it,” said Karl Wilhelm of the Coalition for a United Ridgewood. “We're looking for other allies that see it the way we do and can add weight to our case. Asked why Ridgewood residents' complaints appeared to play no role in the final designs, Wager said the commission had to weigh an array of legal mandates and public input in order to draw the boundaries.
“The commission feels that the resulting lines are the fairest possible result,” Wager said.
The commission originally proposed the Brooklyn-Queens district to help distribute the past decade's population growth, which was much heavier in western Queens than in Brooklyn. The new district also follows the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by keeping together the minority community of Hispanics that crosses the Brooklyn border into Ridgewood, which is more than 60 percent Hispanic in the section slated to join Reyna's district.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.