Before new Congressional lines were finalized in March, a group of residents held a rally in downtown Brooklyn against the proposed districts and waved signs with such statements as “Where is Ozone Park?” and “Howard Beach and Bed-Stuy — why?”
Flash forward a month later, as the Congressional races are heating up, and South Queens residents are worried those running to represent them could be asking the same questions as the protesters, considering neighborhoods like Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Woodhaven have been placed in Brooklyn-heavy districts.
“It’s unfair and counterproductive to the representatives, and to us, to split up communities,” said Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association.
Woodhaven had been in the 9th Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Queens, Brooklyn), who grew up in Woodhaven and now lives in the Rockaways. Anthony Weiner, who previously represented the district, grew up in Brooklyn but had lived in Forest Hills for years.
Now, Woodhaven is in the 7th Congressional District, which includes such communities as Williamsburg and Chinatown, and none of the candidates running for that district are from Queens. The same goes for Howard Beach and Ozone Park, which are in the new 8th Congressional District that includes neighborhoods like Canarsie and Coney Island. Those vying for the 8th CD are from Brooklyn.
“We’re onto our third congressman in a year and a half, and I’m not sure what our relationship is going to be like,” Wendell said. “These people we have no rapport with are coming in, and we’re going to feel like a second thumb.”
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) also said he fears South Queens could get the short end of the stick.
“I’m hoping our residents don’t get shortchanged on their federal issues in terms of representation,” Addabbo said. “Frequently, elected officials don’t pay attention to every corner of their district, those in another borough or on the fringe of their district. That’s why I’ve advocated to keep districts in the same borough.”
Candidates running for the 7th and 8th districts insisted that while they are not from Queens, they are quickly trying to learn the issues in the borough and a number said they’re reaching out to different civic groups and other residents in the borough.
“I look forward to getting to know the residents of the Queens portion of the Congressional district,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), who attended the Ozone Park Civic Association meeting this week. “I look forward to spending time in Ozone Park, Howard Beach and Lindenwood. My record in the legislature has been designed to provide representation to everyone and serve communities regardless of their racial, socioeconomic and religious diversity.”
Jeffries is running in the Democratic primary against Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Ed Towns, who announced earlier this week that he would not seek re-election after 30 years in Congress.
The two agreed on a number of issues they said were of utmost importance in the district, including quality schools and safe neighborhoods.
“There are many things we have in common,” Barron said of Queens and Brooklyn. “We need good salaries, quality education, safe communities, pensions, and good housing stock.”
Barron said he also plans to go around the districts he does not know as well in Queens.
“I’m open to hearing what the people of those new areas need,” he said.
In the 7th district, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens) is being challenged by Councilman Erik Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn) and Manhattan economist Dan O’Connor.
Velazquez, who already represented a tiny slice of Woodhaven, said she is focusing on job creation and securing federal resources for small businesses, particularly for those owned by women.
In a statement emailed to the Queens Chronicle, Velazquez said she has been involved in expanding financing options for startup businesses and wants to ensure there are federal dollars for public housing developments and environment cleanup projects.
O’Connor has cited a number of priorities, including supporting school vouchers, drawing down the number of troops serving abroad, lowering taxes and creating a more transparent Federal Reserve. He said he would also push for term limits in Congress.
Dilan did not respond to repeated requests for comment.