Districting Commission Hears Locals’ Concerns
Residents-including contingents from Woodhaven and Bayside-packed the Little Theater at LaGuardia Community College on Monday, Jan. 14 to once again lobby the City Districting Commission to keep their neighborhoods whole when redrawing City Council districts.
Commission Chairperson Benito Romano noted that over 1,150 residents attended the first two rounds of public hearings. The commission withdrew a previous redistricting proposal due to public outcry; a revised plan was unveiled on Dec. 4. It is expected to be revised on Jan. 30, and will then go to the City Council for approval.
“To many, the lines will appear arbitrary. I assure you they are not,” Benito stated during his opening remarks. “Communities of interest do not neatly organize themselves in districts of ideal population size. So the lines are never perfect.”
Keeping Woodhaven whole
“I really don’t envy the decisions you are going to have to make,” said Woodhaven Residents Block Association President Ed Wendell, who came with members clamoring for the commission “not to divide our community.”
“We just know that when we are divided, it weakens our position,” said Wendell, who noted that the commission’s original plan united the community in one Council District. The new maps split the area between the 30th and 32nd Council Districts (represented by Elizabeth crowley and Eric Ulrich, respectively).
Wendell implored the commission to give Woodhaven “a chance to show what we can do as a united community.”
“Woodhaven is a distinct, unified community, We should not be split,” Woodhaven resident Mary Ann Blenkinsopp told the crowd. “Our situation is already confusing. Few residents know whose district encompasses our library, our firehouses, our schools, our parks. You could fix this problem but you have instead tried to worsen it.”
Battle for Flushing and Bayside
James Hong, representing the Flushing-based MinKwon Center for Community Action, lauded the Commission for “some positive changes” in the commission’s revised plans, such as changes to the 25th City Council District in Elmhurst.
However, “Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park still need further adjustment,” he noted, asking the commission to move District 28’s boundaries west toward Woodhaven Boulevard and to include John Adams High School.
But “the most disturbing part of the latest draft is the commission’s decision to shear the community of Bayside into District 19 and District 23,” he claimed, adding that the proposal goes against “unanimous public opinion” as stated at previous hearings. He suggested that Bayported side-which contains a large Korean American population-be wholly contained in District 19, currently represented by Dan Halloran.
Several residents and civic leaders would echo Hong’s call during the meeting.
Jerry Vattamala of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund claimed that Asian-Americans “must first be ensured fair and effective representation before the commission considering surrounding communities of interest,” citing the Voting Rights Act.
He also claimed that Asian- Americans were disenfranchised in 2009 City Council elections.
Halloran was the only City Council member to appear before the commission. In his remarks, he claimed that the Bayside/Flushing split would be detrimental to its residents, but warned that the
“We do not have proposals to create an Irish district, an Italian district, a Greek district, a district of greeneyed people, a district of left-handed people,” he noted.
Halloran noted that the areas of Bayside Hills and Oakland Gardens had changed the names of their neighborhoods over the years specifically to disassociate themselves from Bayside.
Paul Graziano, a North Flushing resident and urban planner, claimed that the demographics change from one side of Northern Boulevard to the other, noted that “the most important thing is that the area to the north is almost entirely singlefamily.”
“Broadway-Flushing is an amazingly diverse neighborhood in terms of the people who live there and all of those people want to be in one district,” he noted.
Other areas speak
Patricia Martin, a member of Community Board 4 and the president of the Friends of the Lefrak Library, expressed consternation with the removal of Lefrak City from City Council District 25 (represented by Daniel Dromm) to the 24th District, represented by James Gennaro.
“To take us from what we know, what we are a part of, makes no sense,” she stated.
“Lefrak City and Sherwood Village [a nearby apartment complex] has no commonality with Hillcrest, Jamaica Hills and Jamaica Estates,” local District Leader Barbara Jackson told the commission.
Members of South Jamaica’s African-American community in District 28 claimed that the empowerment of the Indo-Carribean and East Asian populations in Richmond Hill and South Richmond Hill may come at the expense of the largely African-American communities in South Jamaica.
“I submit that this is clearly an attempt to empower one group of people at the expense of another-at the expense of the historically black community that has spent decades working for the chance that is about to come,” local resident Florence Johnson told the commission.
“We find it no accident that the redistricting commission chooses to hold hearings on redrawn district maps that will ultimately disenfranchise the majority of people who have lived and worked in District 28 all of their lives,” new Board 12 Chairperson Adrienne Adams stated.