The Rev. Charles Norris of Jamaica gave an understated assessment of the testimony offered as the city’s Districting Commission returned to Queens on Monday night.
“It seems everyone here has the same problem,” he observed dryly.
The problem is the commission’s second go-around in its attempt to redraw New York’s 51 City Council districts.
The exercise is required following the 2010 U.S. Census — and round two by public outrage at perceived gerrymandering that caused the City Council’s leader to throw out the commission’s last map submission in December.
Residents in attendance on Monday universally objected to any attempt to adhere to the last draft. They demanded the redrawing of lines they said at best broke neighborhoods apart in direct contradiction of the commission’s charter.
Still others said the lines appeared aimed at doing nothing but protecting incumbent officials or diluting the voting strength of minority communities.
About 200 people attended the hearing at LaGuardia Community College’s Little Theatre.
Numerous speakers used the phrases “contiguous districts” and “established ties of common interests,” phrases taken directly from the commission’s charge — phrases they said the draft Council Speaker Christine Quinn rejected in December failed to apply.
Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, said he would not tell the commission why splitting Woodhaven in two was a bad idea.
He didn’t have to.
“What is a neighborhood? What is a community?” asked Colin Bucca, one of a handful of Woodhaven residents to speak. “It’s not numbers on a spreadsheet or lines on a map. It’s people.”
Bucca said Woodhaven was a deliberate choice for himself and his neighbors when they bought their homes.
“Now I look and we’re halfway into Howard Beach,” he said. “With the wave of a pen, what I chose is not what I have.”
Such also was the complaint of James Hong, representing the Asian American Community Coalition of Redistricting and Democracy.
Hong and subsequent speakers from the Asian and South Asian communities said the most recent draft of the map divided Bayside between districts 19 and 23.
“Bayside is one community,” he said. Christina Chang said the lines unfairly divided neighborhoods in Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park.
Patricia Martin of Corona said the portion of LeFrak City where she lives is being carved out of the 25th District represented by Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).
“To do that is to take the heart out of a district,” she said. “To do that is to displace us from where we want to be.”
John Albert said there was no evidence in any past hearings that would explain why the first draft split Briarwood and Jamaica Hills.
“Just put LeFrak City back in 25 and Briarwood back in 24 and you would make half the people in this room happy,” said Ali Najmi of Eastern Queens.
Albert also was one of many who said the western boundary of the 28th District, which includes Richmond Hill and bordered on District 32 on the first set of maps, should be moved west from 103rd Street to Woodhaven Boulevard.
He and others said moving the proposed line would bring entities such as Aqueduct Race Track and John Adams High School back into their district.
Many from the Broadway-Flushing area also are asking the commission to move a boundary line that would separate the 19th and 20th districts of Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Peter Koo (D-Flushing), respectively, from 33rd Avenue a few blocks south to Northern Boulevard. They said Northern is the neighborhood’s traditional southern boundary.
Henry Euler of the Auburndale Improvement Association asked the commission to embrace a map drawn up in consultation with members of the Queens Civic Congress that has been endorsed by Koo and Halloran. Among other things, it separates the 19th and 20th at Northern Boulevard.
Euler, Halloran, Tyler Cassell of the North Flushing Civic Association and others also support moving the entire Mitchell-Linden co-op complex from the 19th District to the 20th, rather than just the portion that was moved on the last map.
Halloran, in his own testimony on Monday, said there is widespread support for the map, which also encompasses North Flushing, Auburndale and others.
“It may be the only thing in our entire political lives that [state Sen.] Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and I agree on,” he said.
Florence Johnson of Jamaica was born in the 28th District, lives in the 27th, and owns property in both. She said the proposed lines take what has traditionally been a strong African-American community and pares parts off while replacing them with other minority groups.
“There are small towns all over America,” Johnson said. “Jamaica is my small town.”
She is concerned that redistricting could dilute her voting power and that of her children.
Johnson and others also are at least a little suspicious that the lines would be changing so radically just as Jamaica is beginning to reap the rewards of community investment and decades of hard work by long-time residents and business owners.
“It separates those of us who have been working for the changes that are about to come,” she said.
The City Council was due to vote on the first maps back on Dec. 7.
But the draft proved unpopular, and was drawing increasing fire over a last-minute change that would have moved the home of disgraced Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) into a new district, where he would have had an easier time running for the City Council.
Quinn specifically cited Lopez in telling the commission to redo its work.