Minority residents from Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park and Elmhurst came out en masse to last Wednesday’s Districting Commission meeting held at LaGuardia Community College to collect public comments about proposed City Council lines. They said their neighborhoods should be united to stop the fracturing of minority populations.
The lines are being redrawn as mandated by the results of the 2010 U.S. Census. Though created by the city, all lines must be redrawn under certain federal guidelines with an effort to keep neighborhoods together, and to create contiguous districts of residents and neighborhoods with “common concerns and interests.”
The New York City Districting Commission, which includes former state Sen. Frank Padavan and former Councilman Thomas Ognibene of Queens, released a second map of council districts on Sept. 4, but the changes made to the previous lines were small.
“I feel like this is deja vu,” Korean Community Services Executive Director Linda Lee said, in regards to the second draft of the map still splitting the communities as it does in the first draft of the map.
According to the second draft of the City Council district map, Richmond Hill would be drawn into two districts instead of the existing four. The districts of Council members Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), and Ruben Wills (D-South Jamaica), districts 28 and 32 respectively, would split Richmond Hill with the border running down Lefferts Boulevard south of Atlantic Avenue and 111th Street north of it.
Many groups at the meeting asked that the Lefferts Boulevard line be moved to the Van Wyck Expressway, which would unite South Ozone Park and Richmond Hill into one community. The South Asian and Indo-Caribbean populations that live there — and are now divided by Lefferts Boulevard — would be united into one council district.
“Lefferts Boulevard is right down the middle of our community,” said Richard David, executive director of the Indo-Caribbean Alliance.
Albert Baldeo, a lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2009, agrees with the move to the Van Wyck Expressway. One of his reasons, in addition to uniting the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community, is to separate larger housing units from single- and two-family homes.
“The issues, problems, solutions and allocation of resources confronting them are overpowered and overlooked in preference to those confronting communities like Rochdale Village, and the Jamaica housing projects over the Van Wyck Expressway — a natural divide,” Baldeo said. “These communities should not be lumped together.”
The two other districts that now include Richmond Hill, those of Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), were drawn out of the neighborhood. Crowley’s district would include nearly all of Woodhaven, at the expense of Ulrich, and parts of Woodside and Maspeth now in Jimmy Van Bramer’s (D-Sunnyside) district. His district would be geographically shrunk to account for the growing population in Long Island City.
Koslowitz’s district would include a significant part of Elmhurst, which creates a more subdivided neighborhood than before.
“Elmhurst, a heavily immigrant Asian-American neighborhood, shares much more in common with the rest of District 25 and Jackson Heights than with Rego Park, Forest Hills and Kew Gardens in the 29th District,” said James Hong with the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy.
East of the Van Wyck Expressway, many of the districts would be the same. The only big change would be in Fresh Meadows, where the neighborhood was drawn entirely out of Councilman Jim Gennaro’s (D-Fresh Meadows) district and into the one represented by Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens). Gennaro is term-limited in 2013.
A few people spoke of other neighborhoods as well. Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said Auburndale was being split by the new lines, as well as Bayside Hills. David Goldstein, the zoning chairman of the Bayside Hill Civic Association, was also opposed to splitting up Bayside Hills, although his reasons, unlike the majority of speakers, were not based on ethnicity.
“Any differences in the way residents of Bayside Hills live based on their ethnicity or country of origin are tiny when compared to the similarities brought about by the history and customs of the area we live in, the common architecture of our homes and the mutual respect for one another,” Goldstein said.
Community Board 13 President Bryan Block voiced his opposition to the proposed District 27 lines, which would split Cambria Heights. No one spoke completely in favor of the proposed map.
Many of the groups that spoke pointed to the Unity Map — a document put together by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the National Institute for Latino Policy and the Center for Law and Social Justice of Medgar Evers College — as a better alternative. The Unity Map uses the Van Wyck Expressway as the boundary for a district that combines South Richmond Hill and Ozone Park. It also combines Elmhurst with a part of Jackson Heights.
“I assure you that we are looking closely at the Unity Map,” said Benito Romano, chairman of the rezoning committee and the first Puerto Rican to hold the U.S. Attorney post in New York on an interim basis.
Jamaica would remain split among three districts with the bulk of downtown remaining in what is now Gennaro’s. The spur of Councilman Leroy Comrie’s (D-St. Albans) district that includes the area around Jamaica Center would remain and Wills’ district would still include all of Jamaica south of the Long Island Rail Road.
Parts of Ridgewood would remain in the district of Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Brooklyn), one of just a few that would cross borough lines.
The commission will submit a plan to the City Council in November for final approval next spring in preparation for the 2013 elections.
Woodhaven civic likes redistricting
The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association submitted testimony to the Districting Commission praising the body’s proposal for placing nearly all of the community within the same City Council district.
The WRBA testified in a written statement, following the Districting Commission meeting at LaGuardia Community College Oct. 10. Members were not able to attend the meeting in person.
“We are firmly in favor of the way the Districting Commission’s Preliminary Draft Plan unites nearly all of Woodhaven.It is a huge step forward,” the WRBA said. “Though we are generally pleased with the way Woodhaven’s proposed district lines are drawn, we would prefer that no part of Woodhaven be separated from the rest of the neighborhood.”
The draft map almost unites what are now two districts by putting 98 percent of Woodhaven into District 30, represented by Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), but leaves a small segment of the neighborhood outside her district.
The 2 percent of Woodhaven excluded from District 30 by the proposed lines includes 98th Street between Jamaica and 91st avenues, as well as nearby stretches of 97th Street and 89th, 91st and Jamaica avenues. The area would fall into District 32, represented by Council Member Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
In January the WRBA vigorously objected to state Senate lines that split Woodhaven three ways. In March, the Block Association opposed the congressional lines that divided Woodhaven into two portions.