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Queens Chronicle

Redrawing the political lines

Queens groups hope panel will give voice to minorities#queenswide4, politics

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Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 2:38 pm, Thu Jun 28, 2012.

After Mayor Bloomberg announced his appointments to the Districting Commission last week, paving the way for the group to begin redrawing the city’s 51 council districts, Queens organizations are calling on the members to give a greater voice to minority communities they say have been ignored for far too long.

Bloomberg tapped seven individuals, including former Republican state Sen. Frank Padavan, of Jamaica Estates, to be part of the 15-member group that is tasked with reshaping the city’s political landscape. Redistricting happens once every 10 years, after the U.S. Census numbers are published, in an attempt to draw political boundaries so they more fairly represent the demographics. The city has until next March to submit a final map.

The City Council appointed its eight members to the panel last month, including two from Queens —former Council Minority Leader Thomas Ognibene, of Middle Village, and Forest Hills attorney Linda Lin.

The Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy, which is headquartered in Flushing but operates throughout the city, said it was pleased that two Asian Americans are part of the 15-person panel — especially because none was selected in the last round of redistricting in 2002-03. The other Asian American in the group is Manhattan resident Justin Yu, chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

“ACCORD considers the appointment of Ms. Lin and Mr. Yu to be a significant first step towards a fairer process, one which recognizes the growing presence of Asian Americans in New York City,” the group said in a prepared statement. “Currently, one in eight residents is Asian American. These appointments are a welcome acknowledgement of our community’s importance and the necessity for diversity on the commission.”

ACCORD urged panel members to take into consideration the needs of various Asian populations.

“Given the rapid changes in our city’s Asian American population, we expect that understanding and respecting the common interests of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, Bangladeshi and other Asian American communities will be a challenge for the Districting Commission, even with Ms. Lin and Mr. Yu, who are both Chinese American, on board,” ACCORD said.

Members of Taking Our Seat, a Hollis-based group advocating for the rights of South Asians in Queens, said they especially hope the Council redistricting process will help to unify the South Asian community. Group members noted that Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, two neighborhoods with large South Asian populations, are split among four Council districts —the 28th, 29th, 30th and 32nd.

“Current district lines not only split the community, they split the community down major thoroughfares, such as Lefferts Boulevard and 101st Avenue, with significant portions of the community occupying both sides of the divide,” Taking Our Seat said in an emailed statement.

The Council’s process comes on the heels of the state’s newly redistricted maps, which a number of good government groups called the most gerrymandered lines —meaning they were deliberately formed to favor a specific party — drawn in years. Democrats accused Republicans of protecting their majority in the Senate, while Republicans said Democrats did the same in the Assembly.

However, city legislators argue the Council’s process allows for a more nonpartisan debate about the five boroughs’ political future.

The Council’s Democratic Caucus, the majority, appoints five members, and the minority caucus selects three. The commission must include at least one resident from each borough.

“I’ve always believed in nonpartisan redistricting, and in New York City — unlike many other places —no party can control the redistricting process,” Bloomberg said when announcing his members. “The New Yorkers I’m appointing to the commission are Democrats, Republicans and independents who come from different boroughs and backgrounds —and some originally come from beyond our shores. Their diversity, combined with their experience in civic affairs, will help ensure that Council lines are drawn fairly. New Yorkers expect the redistricting process to promote democratic participation and competition —not to protect incumbents.”

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