After the New York City Districting Commission turned down its own redistricting map, some Queens lawmakers have once again voiced their criticism for how the process has played out. One of the more vocal critics is District 24 Councilman James Gennaro.
Gennaro — who represents Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills and Jamaica — feels his experience working in previous redistricting processes qualifies him to be very critical of the process.
Gennaro served as a City Council’s liaison to the city’s first Redistricting Commission in 1990 and 1991. While he was pleased with the latest proposal being voted down, he also expressed frustration with how this process has gone. Much of his criticism was centered around how his district would change.
“The commission broke just about every criterion it was charged to uphold,” Gennaro said. “They did not ‘keep intact neighborhoods and communities with established ties of common interest and association, whether historical, racial, economic, ethnic, religious or other.’ The lines voted down today were a vicious slap in the face to the Orthodox Jewish community, unconscionably cutting that vibrant community in two despite that community’s fervent plea to the commission to preserve it. The racially and ethnically diverse communities of downtown Jamaica and Jamaica Hill were cut up like jigsaw puzzles without explanation.”
Gennaro also claimed that Rego Park was split despite the criteria to not split communities and respect natural boundaries, as Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the Grand Central Parkway and the Van Wyck Expressway would have stood between that section of Rego Park. He also claimed that the smaller neighborhoods of Cedar Grove and Flushing on the Hill would have been torn away from the greater Kew Gardens Hills community.
“I thank the eight commissioners who, today, had the integrity to vote down this plan that was drawn without regard to the good criteria that should have guided its creation,” Gennaro said. “The redistricting plan proposed today tore at what is left of the precious fabric that holds together the good people of New York City. Good riddance to it.”
New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams expressed disappointment that the Council and public never had the chance to take a look at this latest proposition before it was rejected by the commission.
Adams, who represents District 28 — which covers the neighborhoods of Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village and South Ozone Park — wanted them to at least provide their own thoughts and critiques on the matter.
“The public engaged in the redistricting process at record levels over the last several months, providing input and testimony regarding safety measures and protections for historically marginalized communities of color and communities of interest, as mandated by the Voting Rights Act and New York City Charter,” Adams said. “The commission appeared to have taken this seriously in its revisions, with new maps deemed to be in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Yet, the public has not been able to access these newly proposed maps. I urge the commission to make these maps fully available to the public, so there is complete transparency on the newly proposed districts and how they addressed public concerns. It is also critical for there to be a clear timeline of the next steps and public process.”
The commission has since published a draft for the revised plan that was turned down on its website and is already hard at work in creating its latest proposal.
“We’re already getting back to business,” Commission Chair Dennis Walcott said in a statement Thursday. “We’re scheduling a commission meeting right after the Jewish holidays so we can address members’ concern and get the map into the City Council speaker’s hands at the earliest possible date.”
One of the biggest challenges facing the commission, which is composed of 15 members appointed by the mayor and City Council, is the explosive population growth experienced by the city since the 2010 census. Since that census, the population has grown by 630,000 people.