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Queens Chronicle

Redistricting panel hears ethnic pleas

Residents seek neighborhood unity with new City Council district lines

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Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 10:28 am, Thu Aug 30, 2012.

New York City’s Districting Commission, which is charged with redrawing City Council district lines, came to the Flushing Library Tuesday night for the latest in a series of hearings to collect public input.

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 evening began with a statement from Borough President Helen Marshall, read by her counsel, Hugh Weinberg.

Marshall immediately addressed two of the huge elephants in the room — the myriad problems encountered with new district lines drawn up by the state Legislature earlier this year, and the fact that she and most Queens officials believe the borough was undercounted by at least 100,000 people in 2010.

“I have to admit that after seeing the ordeal that the people of the State of New York went through during the state legislative redistricting process, I am a little concerned about how this process will turn out,” Weinberg read.

Marshall acknowledged that the commission will have a challenge in Queens, whose population is the second-largest and most ethnically diverse of any county in the state.

“We expect that any proposed new legislative districts will respect the integrity of our communities and protect the voting rights of our minority populations,” she said.

Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), speaking later in the evening, said undercounting is believed to have hit Flushing and nearby communities the hardest.

More than three dozen residents spoke before the commission, which includes former state Sen. Frank Padavan and former Councilman Thomas Ognibene of Queens. The residents pressed for borders that will both preserve neighborhoods and allow for better, more diverse representation in the Council.

More than a dozen people from the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities spoke in favor of uniting Richmond Hill, Ozone Park and South Ozone Park into one district. Richmond Hill now is divided between the 28th and 32nd Districts.

“The Indo-Caribbean people have been split into six Assembly districts, and four City Council districts,” said Vishnu Mahadeo of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Council. He said the willful splitting of places like Richmond Hill has diluted the voting clout of the community, leaving it no representation.

James Hong of the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy concurred. He also said his group considers Bayside to be divided, with most of it in the 19th District but the southern portion in the 23rd.

Frank Toner, president of the Rocky Hill Civic Association in Bellerose, said he would like to see the 23rd remain intact as much as possible, but conceded that the argument to shift Oakland Gardens could be a logical one.

“If you are going to bring a new community into our district, make sure you try and bring in a whole community if possible,” Toner said.

Dominick Pistone, president of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, said he would like all of Kew Gardens in one district.

It is now split between 29 and 30, while having four Assembly districts.

Michael Mallon of the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens said his group would like the 25th District, composed largely of Jackson Heights, Sunnyside, Astoria and Long Island City, to remain as is.

Mallon said the neighborhoods have been hospitable to the LGBT community, and pointed to the election of Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).

He too said breaking up the district would dilute the LGBT community’s voting power in a council race.

James Trikas of Flushing questioned whether or not the commission should be in the business of ethnic or racial gerrymandering, even with the best of intentions.

“Should we be segregating people into districts?” he asked. “I thought we were all Americans.”

Trikas drew some applause, though Steve Chung, who made the trip from Brooklyn, said such considerations in political districts would not meet his criteria for applying the term segregation.

“We would still get up and meet our same neighbors,” Chung said. “Our children would still go to the same schools. We can eat in any restaurant we want. The difference is we can vote for the people we want to represent us.”

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