By Joe Anuta
The New York City Districting Commission released maps last week that could determine City Council boundaries for the next decade, although the public will not get to comment on what many in Queens see as serious flaws.
The Council has three weeks to object to the proposed district lines before they move on to the U.S. Department of Justice to be officially implemented. Every 10 years a commission of 15 people appointed by the mayor and each party in the Council get together to tweak the districts in response to population changes identified in the U.S. census.
But in Queens, civics and nonprofits took issue with many of the changes, though the head of the commission warned that redistricting is always contentious.
For example, Bayside is divided under the new maps after the commission kept Bayside Hills in City Councilman Mark Weprin’s (D-Oakland Gardens) district and took a few more blocks from Councilman Dan Halloran’s (R-Whitestone) district, according to Jerry Vattamala, a staff attorney for the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit which advocated for getter neighborhood representation.
Elsewhere in northeast Queens, Broadway-Flushing was divided between the more high-density district of Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and the more residential district of Halloran, irking civics like the Queens Civic Congress.
“I was shocked,” said Richard Hellenbrecht, president of the civic, referring to his reaction when he first saw the maps. “We are all scratching our heads wondering what their rationale was for doing some of these things.”
The Auburndale Neighborhood Association also took umbrage at the new lines and wanted more of its neighborhood, made up of largely single-family homes, in Halloran’s district.
The commission split Mitchell-Linden, a group of co-ops just north of downtown Flushing, which wanted to be kept whole and in Koo’s more urban district by putting part into Halloran’s district.
The commission had no shortage of input from groups in the area, and former state Sen. Frank Padavan, who represented parts of northeast Queens and is familiar with the neighborhoods, is on the commission and voted for the lines.
An objection from the Council is the only recourse left for groups who want changes made to the lines, according to Vattamala, who suggested the commission did many things right in the process, but ultimately attempted to insulate itself from criticism by making the most substantive alterations to the maps after the public comment period was over.
Carl Hum, executive director for the commission, said the body followed the City Charter, a document which stipulates how the process should move forward, as best it could have.
“It was our interpretation of how the charter lays out this process,” he said.
The commission held two rounds of public hearings in August and October, but did not release the most drastic changes to the maps until last Thursday.
The charter states the commission “shall make its plan available to the public for inspection and comment not less than one month before the first such public hearing.”
And Vattamala thinks that while the commission may have technically followed the rules, it violated the spirit of the charter, since Hum could have had the second round of hearings after making changes more reflective of the final product.
“Where was the inspection and comment on this map?” asked Vattamala.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.