The final draft of the new City Council lines from the NYC Districting Commission made very few people happy, so the commission voted Tuesday to scrap them.
Among those least pleased is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who in an unprecedented move last week asked the commission to go back to the drawing board after a number of controversies erupted over the draft maps.
The council was expected to vote on the maps before Dec. 7, but a final vote is in limbo as the commission met Tuesday to respond to the issues.
One major sticking point with the new maps is the change in the 34th Council District, one of the few that cross borough lines. The district, represented by term-limited Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Brooklyn) includes Williamsburg, Bushwick and Ridgewood. The lines were tweaked in the final draft to include the Bushwick home of embattled Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn), who was ousted as chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and is on thin ice in the state Assembly because of allegations of sexual harassment. Lopez is said to be eyeing a run for Reyna’s soon-to-be vacant council seat, and has been a political foe of Reyna, supporting her 2009 opponent, Maritza Davila, who lost the Democratic primary to Reyna by 223 votes. Davila ran in the general election on the Working Families Party line, receiving a third of the vote.
“I think it was obvious that that was a concern of the public,” Commission Executive Director Carl Hum said of the proposed 34th District.
In order to run for the seat, Lopez would have to move into the district by Jan. 1, 2014. Some saw the relocation of his home into the district as a self-serving move in his favor. That led to Quinn’s decision to ask for a redo.
“The most significant concern I have relates to the new lines for District 34,” Quinn said in a Nov. 29 letter to the commission. “Given the Commission’s laudable interest in continuing the public process, I am requesting in the strongest possible terms that the Commission withdraw its submission to the Council to receive additional input from the public.”
One commission member who opposed the changes was former state Sen. Frank Padavan of Bellerose, who denied that Lopez’s home was moved purposely.
“If my life depended on it, I couldn’t tell you where he lives,” Padavan said at the Tuesday meeting. He also slammed the commission for voting on the changes “piecemeal.”
The commission then decided unanimously to scrap the maps and start the process over again. A new round of public hearings will begin in January.
The maps in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan would need to go through preclearance with the U.S. Justice Department to make sure they comply with the Voting Rights Act because of the high minority population in those boroughs. That means the new maps would have to be drawn and approved quickly to have them in time for petitioning to start for the September 2013 primaries.
The now-canned maps were heavily criticized among civic leaders in Queens, notably in Woodhaven, Oakland Gardens and North Flushing, where the commission divided neighborhoods that asked to stay together.
Earlier, before the commission decided to trash the maps completely, members had made a change to North Flushing’s border, reuniting the Mitchell-Linden complex into one district. It had been split. The borders of North Flushing also changed with the border between the 19th and 20th District being 33rd Avenue, rather than the larger Northern Boulevard a few blocks to the south.
In Woodhaven, the maps had divided the neighborhood at Forest Parkway, despite its having been united in the first round of mapmaking.
The maps also separated Briarwood and Jamaica Hills, as well as Oakland Gardens and Bayside despite local pleas to keep the neighborhoods united. A curious gerrymander of JFK Airport was also in the maps, with the terminals and cargo areas being drawn into the 28th District, represented by Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Jamaica), while the runways remained in the 31st District, where the entire airport is now.
Because of the redistricting limbo, non-incumbents or potential primary challengers are also in a state of wait and see while candidates wait to find out if they live in the district they want to run in. The shortened time frame may make fundraising and campaigning more difficult for challengers.
But some, including Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), say ditching the map was an important step toward improving the credibility of the process.
“This morning’s resolution by the Districting Commission is a step in the right direction,” he said. “I am hopeful that deliberations and the next public hearing will lead to the restoration of northern Flushing to the 19th District, so that the single-family homeowners in that area will continue to have a voice in the Council and not be disenfranchised.”
The Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy, which has been pushing for strengthening representation among Asian-majority neighborhoods, praised the decision of the commission to redraw the maps, but noted there had been some improvement from the earlier draft.
“ACCORD has considered a third round to be necessary and welcomes this announcement,” the group said in a statement. “These upcoming hearings will present an opportunity for the Districting Commission to maintain positive changes made in the revised (second) map, further improve boundaries to reflect demographic changes, and in particular, address outstanding issues affecting minority voting rights and Asian American communities.”
ACCORD had praised the new map’s consolidation of Elmhurst, which has a growing Asian-American population, into one district — District 25 currently represented by Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights). They also noted the improvement in Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, where the border between districs 32 and 28 was moved 17 blocks west to 103rd Street from Lefferts Boulevard. ACCORD said the border should be moved further to Woodhaven Boulevard to unite the Indo-Caribbean and West Indian community in Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park and Ozone Park.
The group also backed the consolidation of Bayside and Oakland Gardens, which remains split between two council districts. Halloran, who represents one of the two districts, said the housing stock in the two neighborhoods are very different and suggested a different potential reason for Oakland Gardens wanting to join his district.
“I can’t fathom why an R3 and R4 zone would want to be in my district other than it’s such a nifty place to be,” he quipped. “They probably just want to have the best councilmember in the city, and I can’t fault them for that.”