Western Queens community and civic leaders are urging Ridgewood’s predominantly Hispanic community to express themselves in the most American of ways: through voting.
The grass-roots group, Coalition for a United Ridgewood, kicked off a non-partisan voter registration drive on Tuesday on the steps of the St. Matthias School on Catalpa Avenue in Ridgewood.
As part of a lesson about the foundations of democracy, students at the Catholic school will participate in the drive by distributing as many as 8,000 voter registration forms throughout the community until the fall elections.
Nubia Diez-Holzherr, vice president of the Coalition, said the goal is to make the area’s immigrant community aware of their voting rights.
“It is voting that makes our democracy strong,” Diez-Holzherr said. “It is voting at the local level where issues of sanitation, roads, safety, schools and libraries are important.”
Carlos Ortiz, vice chairman of the Coalition and a retired NYPD sergeant, added that “it is important for Hispanics in Ridgewood to be involved in the community, educate themselves about the important issues that impact the neighborhood, register and to vote.”
Diez-Holzherr, a native of Colombia, who also serves as president of the Friends of the Ridgewood Library, said it is not apathy that keeps Hispanics and other immigrant populations from the polls. Rather, she said most new residents are simply not aware about the procedures of voting, specifically how to go about registering.
According to the 2000 Census, Ridgewood’s Hispanic community has grown to 43 percent while 67 percent of the community speaks a language other than English at home. While a majority, 37 percent, speaks Spanish, many others, the figures point out, are fluent in Polish, Italian, German, Chinese, Serbian and Albanian.
“Despite a great deal of national origin, religious affiliation, political preference and languages spoken at home, Ridgewood residents retain a commitment toward the common good of all our neighbors,” Diez-Holzherr said.
The voting campaign should also teach an important lesson to the 350 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade at St. Matthias, according to the school’s principal, Barbara Wehnes.
She said students have been learning about American freedoms and the right to vote in class. The youngsters are then encouraged to utilize that knowledge by bringing home the voting guides to their parents and neighbors and explain to them how they can go about registering.
“These are important life lessons,” Wehnes said.
The Coalition’s new voting campaign comes on the heels of its recent and highly vocal public fight to keep Ridgewood from being redistricted into a Brooklyn Council District.
The city’s Redistricting Commission approved a plan earlier this year which shifts approximately 25,000, primarily Hispanic residents, from southern Ridgewood’s 30th District—currently represented by Councilman Dennis Gallagher—into the 34th District, represented by Bushwick Councilwoman Diana Reyna.
The Justice Department is currently reviewing the plan, which would go into effect with this November’s City Council races.
While the Coalition is still hopeful that the Justice Department will reverse the city’s decision, it got a measure of support Tuesday from a seemingly unlikely ally.
The Coalition for a Better Brooklyn, which represents the predominantly Hispanic communities of Bushwick and Williamsburg, offered its voice against the redistricting proposal.
Kenneth Diaz, representing the Brooklyn Coalition, said the plan carves up their neighborhood unnecessarily and weakens the voting opportunities of additional Latino candidates.
“We are happy the way things are,” Diaz said. “We don’t see the logic. There is no rationale for this change.”
The Coalition for a United Ridgewood will sponsor a town meeting at 7:45 p.m. on June 5th at I.S. 93 to update residents in the community regarding the redistricting plan and its effect on the neighborhood.
“We as civic leaders take the responsibility to reach out to the community and say that political lines will not divide us,” Diez-Holzherr said. “While we continue to fight the political division that would remove the rights of Hispanics and our neighbors from their vote, together, with the fellow neighbors in Ridgewood, we will remain united, no matter the result.”
The meeting will also include information about voter registration and a seminar on how to become an American citizen. I.S. 93 is located at Forest Avenue and Madison Street in Ridgewood.