R.H., Flushing Locals Decry New Lines
A packed house came from all corners of the borough to a special hearing at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at to protest the state’s redistricting plan.
Over 100 residents signed up to speak at the meeting of the Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), chaired by State Sen. Michael F. Nozzolio, who represents upstate Seneca Falls, which was tasked with redrawing district maps after the 2010 Census. Many more packed into the meeting room.
First to speak (after some heckling from the crowd) was Borough President Helen Marshall, who called the session “one of the most important meetings we’ve ever had.”
“Minority votes should count, because Queens is the most ethnically diverse county in the whole United States of America,” said Marshall. “It’s the right thing to do.”
State Senators Michael Gianaris and Tony Avella, up next, accused the panel of partisanship, with Gianaris stating that the panel has “brought shame to the state of New York.”
Armed with maps, Gianaris pointed to the Long Island community of Hempstead, whose large minority population would be divided into four Senate districts-all represented currently, he stated, by white males. He claimed that the new area lines “should be held up by students throughout the nation as a prime example of redistricting being used to crack minority communities into multiple districts to prevent them from achieving political power.”
“Abuses like this belong to the dustbin of history,” he told the panel.
Avella, meanwhile, characterized the new lines as “absolutely disgraceful” and called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to veto the proposal.
“In Queens, it’s especially egregious, and you should be ashamed of yourself,” he stated.
“People don’t trust us in elective office these days,” City Council Member Mark Weprin would add. “When [districts] start looking like Rorschach tests in parts of the state … people lose faith in the system.”
Two communities in particular came out in droves-the Asian- American Flushing and Bayside areas, and the Southeast Asian-American residents of Richmond Hill.
The former group’s focus was on Senate Districts 11 (represented by Avella) and 16 (which belongs to State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky). While many speakers heralded the creation of the state’s first Asian-American majority Senate district in District 16, they lamented that Flushing remained split between the two districts.
Mackenzie Yang of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans noted that Flushing “has the most dense Asian American population, with strong shared interest between them.”
“To divide Flushing’s Asian- American community,” she added, “is to dilute their ability to elect a candidate of their choice.”
She and several others suggested that Bay Terrace, which was added into District 16, should be swapped with District 11 in exchange for keeping Flushing whole-an idea that was also championed by Warren Schreiber of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance.
James Hong, who represented the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy (ACCORD), a coalition of citywide groups, stated that the split “has been and continues to be unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, the Assembly lines were the target of the Southeast Asian communities in Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park Community organizer Ali Najmi told the panel that the area was “completely let down by your proposed maps,” noting that it would be split among two State Senate districts and six separate Assembly districts in LATFOR’s plan.
“You knew what the right thing to do was, and you still didn’t do it,” he stated. “All of you should be exiled to New Jersey.”
“You are disenfranchising a large community,” added Vishnu Mahadeo, chair of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Council, who urged the panel to consider merging the community into a single Assembly district.
Manny Caruana and Tony Nunziato of the Juniper Park Civic Association came to ask LATFOR to re-examine the 30th Assembly District (represented by Margaret Markey). Caruana asked the panel to consider splitting its Maspeth/Middle Village portion and its Sunnyside/ Woodside portion. claiming that the increased density in the Sunnyside and Woodside area decreases the representation in Maspeth and Middle Village.
Local activist Garth Marchant urged LATFOR to keep Far Rockaway represented by one Assembly district instead of the two districts- the 23rd and the 31st-proposed in the map.
Before the meeting, a group of residents came together on the steps of Borough Hall to rally against the plan, led by members of the Jamaica chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Eastern Queens United, a coalition of civic groups from that portion of the borough; and City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who denounced the legislative lines, calling it “just not right.”