Published On: Mon, Feb 20th, 2012

Black and Latino Residents Mobilize Against Unfair Redistricting on Long Island

Widely condemned as gerrymandering, the proposed state Senate and Assembly district lines released last month by a legislative task force have been universally panned by minority communities across New York City and its suburbs.

Maria Williams, a member of the NAACP, explained at a Long Island redistricting forum hosted by Long Island Wins and other groups Monday: “It’s important to us to be able to have someone within our district, from our communities,” she said. “And when they break up the communities in such a way that we can’t ever choose someone from within, then that’s a problem.”

As lawmakers in Albany contemplate legal actions and a possible veto, minority and immigrant communities have gathered to chew over the new maps. As always, the devil is in the details. Here are some of the details that the community and ethnic media have zeroed in on in recent weeks:

Community cohesion was the issue for the Queens Tribune, which asked, “What do Lindenwood and Astoria have in common? How about Breezy Point and Jamaica Estates? If Senate Republicans have their way, one thing these neighborhood pairings from far sides of the borough will have in common is a State Senator.”

The article went on to explain that, as well as these unlikely neighborhood pairings, other communities would be split by the proposed district lines:

Some communities who found themselves divided in the maps are fuming and not taking it quietly. Woodhaven, which had previously been entirely located within the same Assembly and Senate districts, is now divided into three different Senate districts including one based in Astoria and another based in South Jamaica.

“When it comes to the Senate lines, the people of Woodhaven are being treated as pawns in Albany’s gerrymandering games,” said Woodhaven Residents Block Association spokesman Alexander Blenkinsopp.

“The new legislative maps are an abomination and are gerrymandered to break up our communities that have simply asked to remain united,” said Bob Freidrich, president of Glen Oaks Village.

An article in the Amsterdam News examined the effects of a change in the way that incarcerated people were counted in the 2010 census — which places them in their home districts, rather than the mostly upstate districts in which they serve their time:

The Senate GOP looks like they want to make up for the lost population over the past decade, as many young adults have moved either downstate or out of the state altogether. To do that, they added a 63rd district in the Hudson Valley, which splits up a mostly Democratic Albany County. This was purposefully done and it’s not for the reason mentioned above, according to one organization. According to the members of Common Cause NY, a nonpartisan organization that produced district maps of their own, if there a 63rd district was added, it would have to be downstate because of the increase in New York City’s population. Adding representation in upstate, rural areas dilutes where the true power lies: minority, downstate voters.

[State Senate Minority Leader John] Sampson believes that there’s yet another reason behind the potential 63rd seat.

“If you want to be honest, there wouldn’t be justification for the 63rd seat if it wasn’t for the prison issue,” Sampson said. The “prison issue” he mentioned stems from last year’s upholding of a state law that requires inmates to be counted as part of the home district’s population and not in the district where they’re held behind bars. This practice was used to bolster the numbers of rural populations for the sake of drawing district lines for many years.

Another Amsterdam News article described the “dragon-shaped” district, stretching from Harlem through the Bronx to Westchester, that may be carved out for longtime Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel — even as the black population of Harlem declines:

“He will cut around, he will go up at 155th Street, he will cut up and go up into the Bronx, he will go to Co-op City and he’ll go up into Westchester,” [Harlem Assemblyman Herman “Denny”] Farrell said. “By doing that…the district will end up being approximately 41 percent African-American and that was the number we had to raise. It’ll be a mix of Latino, then Asian and white, so it’ll be mixed, but it will be a district that can be won.”

Our Time Press made an urban vs. suburban distinction:

The proposed maps are also viewed as shortchanging NYC because Senate districts in the city are more than 3% larger than the average district size. Every district what the (sic) Westchester however, is more than 4.5% smaller than the average sized district. With such a wide spread in population size per district, the average Senate vote by cast upstate weighs 7.3% more than the average vote in New York City and surrounding regions.

The Gotham Gazette examined a difference in opinion on how best to represent Asian-Americans on the Queens-Nassau border legislatively:

Many Asian-American groups, joined by some Latinos, have pushed for State Senate and Assembly borders to be redrawn around a single, cohesive Asian community which would cut across Queens and Nassau county lines. Others, led by the group Eastern Queens United, have categorically opposed this.

The groups’ main argument centers around what constitutes “communities of interest” and whether or not race and ethnicity is a key factor in determining these. Moreover, politicians and analysts have said that grouping voters from the two counties together will give Republicans an edge.

Meanwhile, the Chinese-language World Journal focused its coverage on Brooklyn’s Asian hub, Sunset Park, where Chinese community leaders spoke at a recent hearing on the proposed redistricting lines. Here’s an excerpt, translated by Connie Kong:

They expressed strong opposition to the State Senate district line, which divides each of the Brooklyn Sunset Park’s 8th Avenue and Bensonhurst areas.  The Chinese speakers opposed splitting the two areas into four constituencies, saying that doing so would not fully protect the interests of Asian voters.  They pointed out that Chinese Americans in Brooklyn have contributed a great deal to the community, converting a number of abandoned warehouses into restaurants, shops and supermarkets. These new businesses pay New York City millions of dollars in taxes, making a significant contribution to the Brooklyn economy, but Brooklyn has not seen an elected Chinese political representative.

In an editorial in the Amsterdam News, editor Elinor Tatum offered her take on the motivations of the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, which drew up the maps:

From Nassau County to Buffalo, the lines are being drawn to do the most damage to predominantly Black and Latino communities and their political strength. The goal of the completely white Senate Republican caucus is simple: They want to pit strong Black political leaders against each other and create weak new political districts. A clear example of this are the 20th and 25th senatorial voting districts.

The Senate Republicans’ plan would move Eric Adams’ district by two blocks, which means he would live outside the district he currently represents and in Sen. Velmanette Montgomery’s district instead. That pits two sitting Black state senators against each other and creates an open district with no incumbent, the 20th District.

This low blow by LATFOR is a direct result of the fact that Adams has been so vocal a thorn in the side of the Republican Senate leadership.

And the list goes on, with many examples of how this map makes the state Legislature whiter and whiter, even though this state and our country are changing their hue.

To help you parse the maps yourself, our friends at WNET’s MetroFocus have provided this handy guide to the redistricting maps, including side-by-side maps produced by the Center for Urban Research, and an eye-opening rundown of common gerrymandering techniques, including “cracking,” “kidnapping,” “diluting,” “dividing” and “decoying.”


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- Delivering news, views and information. @BBN_NYC and @BBN_NYC_ARTS

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