Dozens of residents packed Monday’s Community Board 13 meeting in Cambria Heights to voice their opposition to new proposed City Council district lines for Cambria Heights and Springfield Gardens. A representative for the city’s Districting Commission, the body that draws the lines, told the crowd that it would try to keep things as they are.
Based on Districting Commission maps, 52 blocks located in the southern portion of Cambria Heights — about one-third of the neighborhood — would be moved from the 27th District, represented by City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), to the 31st District, whose new representative will be chosen in a special election in March 2013.
“The commission is working to restore Cambria Heights back into District 27,” said Jonathan Ettricks, director of community outreach for the Districting Commission.
But there is no guarantee that will happen. The City Council will vote on the plan on Nov. 5.
The commission’s maps are based on population changes, and are in accordance with Section 52 of the City Charter which states, among other things, that the difference in population between the least populous and the most populous districts shall not exceed 10 percent of the average population for all of them.
“We use the numbers that the Census Bureau gives us,” Ettricks said. “There are 8.25 million people in the city. There are 51 council districts. And every district has to be of relatively equal size in order to satisfy the constitutional protections of one person, one vote. You have to have 160,000 people in every district. So the first set of maps was simply to adjust for population changes.”
Several area leaders provided testimony opposing the new lines at an Oct. 10 public hearing. Among those against the plan were members of the Cambria Heights Civic Association.
“It’s not in the best interest of the community,” the group’s Chairwoman Kelli Singleton said Monday. “It’s hard enough working with one council member, nevermind two.”
Comrie is being term-limited out in 2013 and Sanders is leaving early, having effectively won the 10th District state Senate seat. A special election will be held in March to determine who will replace him.
“That’s two new people we would have to get to know and lobby,” Singleton said.
The boundary between Cambria Heights and Laurelton has long been defined as the north end of Montefiore Cemetery and 121st Avenue. Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), who spoke at the CB 13 meeting, said she testified at the commission hearing in favor of making the cemetery the official dividing line.
Donnice Redding, the president of the Cambria Heights Civic Association, said the community has gotten strong support from Comrie and that residents are confident they will be able to work with whoever replaces him, because they feel he will have a hand in who succeeds him.
They have not been pleased with Sanders, however, who already represents a small sliver of the neighborhood, specifically regarding what they consider his failure to take a firm stand against a proposal to enlarge Congregation Ohel Chabad Lubavitch, an area synagogue, to make room for sleeping accommodations, among other things.
“He has only been to one of our meetings,” Redding said. “And his position [on Lubavitch] is that it’s OK. It’s not OK. That area is zoned for one-family residential homes only. It is not zoned for transient housing and there is no commercial overlay.”
Sanders said he is against the synagogue’s plans.
“I strongly oppose their efforts to expand into the community, as they have persistently shown themselves to be poor neighbors,” Sanders said in an email. “I also stand with the Cambria Heights community in the belief that they should remain within a single council district so that their voices and concerns as a community can best be represented in the City Council.”
Sanders is backing his chief of staff, Donovan Richards, to replace him, and Redding feels if he is elected it will just be more of the same.
Dwight Johnson of the Federated Blocks of Laurelton is also against the redistricting plan, because he believes it will hurt the community by diluting its political power. He noted that Cambria Heights has been a solid voting block for years.
“If you take a chunk of Cambria Heights and put it into Laurelton and Rosedale, it’s just not going to work,” Johnson said. “They are trying to divide people and cause confusion, so that they argue amongst themselves, instead of working to resolve the problems in the community. I think they should keep it the way it is.”
Cambria Heights is not the only neighborhood in eastern Queens that may be sliced by the commission’s knife. The panel has also proposed taking significant portions of Springfield Gardens represented by Sanders and giving it to Comrie and 28th District City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica).
“The same thing the commission said about Cambria Heights is also being said for Springfield Gardens,” Ettricks said. “Put it back into District 31. That’s the goal.”
Richards said Sanders would prefer to keep Springfield Gardens together, since he has a lot of time and money invested in the community, spending $1 million to make improvements to Springfield Gardens High School and add a library, as well as $3.5 million on improvements to Montebello Park.
“We are not happy with the lines,” Richards said. “We have done a lot of work in Springfield Gardens.”
However, if the area ends up being divided, Richards said, Sanders will work with other elected officials who represent it to resolve problems.
“We work well with people in all different communities, and we will continue doing that,” Richards said.