By Phil Corso
The city Districting Commission released its preliminary draft of the redrawn 51 City Council districts last week, setting the stage for a battle over representation from some minority groups in Queens that want new lines to encompass their ethnic communities.
The redrawn lines very much resemble already-existing districts in Queens, but include slight adjustments in areas like the 24th District, where parts of Jamaica and Fresh Meadows were cut out, and in Springfield Gardens, which was split from one lone district into three. Even though there were minor changes made to districts within the borough, some argued the new lines did not properly address ethnic demographics.
Member organizations of the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy came out against the preliminary draft, saying in a statement that public input was not reflected in the redrawn lines. In particular, Accord organizations said key neighborhoods in the Asian-American community, including Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, would suffer from poor representation.
“Nothing has changed,” said Richard David, executive director of the Indo-Caribbean Alliance. “These draft lines in Richmond Hill and the surrounding areas ignore the drastic ethnic, economic and social changes we have seen over the last decade. We are now wondering whether this process will empower our residents or move our community forward.”
Accord has promoted the Unity Map, which includes suggested district lines that would bring together Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park into the same jurisdiction.
The new lines, released Sept. 4, come on the heels of several public hearings and will continue to evolve through a second round of meetings beginning Oct. 2. The districts are redrawn every 10 years to best reflect census data throughout the city, the commission said.
“There are many more views that need to be shared with the commission given the significance of redrawing these lines for the next 10 years,” said Districting Commission Chairman Benito Romano. “We encourage the public to participate and look forward to hearing from more of the public in the second round of hearings.”
Borough activist and small business owner Tony Nunziato from western Queens said he was still hopeful that communities would be well-represented as the drafting process moves forward. Nunziato said although it was still early on, he was not completely satisfied with the splitting up of communities in Maspeth and Middle Village.
“You can’t split a town in half,” Nunziato said. “We don’t want a line to be drawn. We want representation.”
Steven Choi, executive director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action in Flushing, said he hoped to see new lines unite communities in Bayside and Oakland Gardens.
“More of Oakland Gardens is left out of District 19, and the community of Bayside continues to be divided,” Choi said. “This draft was possible without any public hearings. The commission could have done more than simply correcting for deviations, given the input available. The people have spoken, but who is listening? I think we need to have evidence of that.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.