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Redrawn Halloran seat not GOP friendly

Photo by Rich Bockmann
By Joe Anuta

A bipartisan group redrew a highly Democratic voting bloc into the seat of Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) instead of leaving it in Councilman Peter Koo’s (D-Flushing) more urban district, raising questions about politics played out in the decision.

The commission consisting of 15 non-elected officials has been tasked with redrawing the city’s 51 Council districts to account for population growth identified by the 2010 census.

The commission recently released a set of proposed new districts, which will be the subject of an Oct. 10 public hearing at LaGuardia Community College. At first glance, it seemed the districts largely stayed the same, yet the blocks selected to be shuffled between two seats could have drastic effects on representation in northeast Queens.

Mitchell-Linden, a group of co-ops in Flushing, would be split between two districts under the current proposal. About half of the co-ops would stay in the more urban district represented by Democrat Koo, while the other half would move into the more residential district represented by Republican Halloran. The residents of Mitchell-Linden are outraged, according to the co-op’s civic association president, Arlene Fleishman.

“It’s not right to split us up,” she said.

Fleishman contended that co-ops and the growing Asian-American population who are buying them would make Koo’s district a more logical choice.

Nearby, a group of homeowners from North Flushing are having just the opposite problem. They want to be put into Halloran’s district, which more closely resembles the single-family detached homes of their neighborhood, yet the current plan calls for the area to be placed between the two districts.

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Tyler Cassell, president of the North Flushing Civic Association. “There is no reason to do that, except for political reasons.”

The Queens Civic Congress, a coalition of civic organizations representing residents around the borough, has drawn up maps of its own that swap the two areas and bolster its decision with statistics showing the population, racial and ethnic makeup of the two areas are nearly identical.

The congress roughly estimated the switch would put about 1,500 more registered voters from the condos into Halloran’s district, yet Mitchell-Linden is widely known as a Democratic enclave.

In the 2009 election, Halloran beat Democrat Kevin Kim by about 900 votes, according to records from the city Board of Elections.

But the councilman said the lines would likely be switched to reflect the wishes of the community.

“This was a first draft,” he said, adding that he doubted the commission purposely put Mitchell-Linden into his district.

“Clearly, that is not the intention of the commission. I anticipate it will all go into Councilman Koo’s district,” he said.

A political insider familiar with the redistricting process said Democratic legislators often have a say in the process and can request changes to their district, meaning Koo may have had the opportunity to cut out the co-ops if he felt they would not have been beneficial to him.

But James McClelland, chief of staff for Koo, said the councilman did not make any requests to the commission.

“We didn’t feel they could change the lines to benefit or hurt us,” he said, noting that as long as downtown Flushing remains the epicenter of the district, Koo feels confident about his 2013 re-election prospects.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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