Activists continue redistricting fight 1

Advocates in South Richmond Hill protested the new Assembly lines that were approved this week.

A coalition of activists on Monday protested the final Assembly map proposals in South Richmond Hill, the heart of where community outrage has mounted over being split into three different districts. At the same time, the Senate and Assembly were approving the bills that would advance the maps and Gov. Hochul later signed them.

APA VOICE and its coalition members rallied on the corner of Liberty Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard to protest the maps, which reversed a proposal from December 2022 that united the communities of Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park.

“At the start of the 2020 redistricting process, the most egregious Assembly district in this city and arguably the state was Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park that was divided into seven Assembly districts,” said Elizabeth OuYang, a civil rights attorney and coordinator for the group Asian Pacific Americans Voting and Organizing to Increase Civic Engagement’s redistricting task force.

A lawsuit challenged the maps and last September, the IRC was tasked with drawing new ones.

Then, after much advocacy, in 2022 the Independent Redistricting Commission proposed an Assembly map last December that would keep the community in one district.

Last week, the commission sent to the Legislature maps nearly identical to the original ones, which OuYang said ignore the South Asian community in the area.

“We are outraged and deeply disappointed in the outcome of an ‘independent democratic process’ that is flawed and needs reforming. The new maps demonstrate deliberate collusion with the NYS legislators to protect incumbency — an act of political violence perpetuating racial gerrymandering of our South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities,” Mohamed Q. Amin, founder and executive director of the Caribbean Equality Project, a coalition member of the APA VOICE task force, said after the votes.

At Monday’s rally, Amin pointed toward the efforts activists took to testify against the maps.

Coalition members organized town halls and rallies and met with more than 35 state legislators, he said, adding that they called on the IRC “to correct decades of neglect and political harm to the Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park community of interest.”

“We asked for a single compact district that will give us a fighting chance to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic a more politically resilient community, a district that will allow us to elect a candidate of our choice, a culturally responsive representative who will work with his diverse constituents to create a future that will secure resources to protect LGBTQ people, tenant rights, produce access to immigration services, generate sustainable, community driven solutions to combat hate crimes, provide funding for community based organizations and voter education to continue building political power. But we were ignored and silenced.”

At the protest were also representatives from the South Queens Women’s March, Desis Rising Up and Moving, the MinKwon Center for Community Action (which convened APA VOICE), the Coalition of Asian American Children and Families and the Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York and Immigrant Social Services, Inc.

The Senate, Assembly and Gov. Hochul this week signed off on the maps.

In the Assembly hearing, Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani (D-Astoria) voted in favor of the maps but spoke about his “great concern in terms of what these maps will do to Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park.”

Although he doesn’t cover those areas, he noted that he represents and is a part of the Indian and South Asian communities.

If it had been united into one district, he said, it would have been the only one in the state to have a majority of its electorate be South Asian and Indo-Caribbean.

The IRC, he said, made a mistake in ignoring the concerns of those communities.

“While I will be voting for these maps ... the time has come to ensure that one community is given one district.”

Nonetheless, the bill passed in the Assembly 132-12.

Amin said he is grateful for the support of one legislator. Those who represent the area remained silent on the matter during the session, despite supporting a resolution to declare April Punjabi Awareness Month.

“In contrast to Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, three of the elected representatives for Richmond Hill made no comments about how the district lines will impact Richmond Hill, but instead introduced legislation to acknowledge the community that they voted to divide,” he said.

Now, the communities will remain split for another decade, Amin added.

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar (D-Woodhaven) in a statement provided to the Chronicle said she is pleased that her district remains “intact and its people united,” but acknowledged the issues the South Asian communities face.

“Despite the victory for unity in District 38, the South Asian community of Richmond Hill, South Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, and South Ozone Park did not fare as well,” Rajkumar said. “These neighborhoods are now split among four Assembly districts. We must keep fighting until these South Asian communities are unified in one district. We need common-sense district lines that give South Asian New Yorkers the political voice they deserve.”

“South Asian New Yorkers have not had a seat at the table,” Rajkumar said, adding, “Until recently, we did not even have anyone from our community elected to state office.” She cited her election as the first South Asian woman elected to the state office as well as the ongoing fight for South Asian representation in Albany.

She said the “emerging power of the South Asian community is unquestionable and undeniable.”

Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) could not provide comment in time for publication and Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson (D-South Ozone Park) did not respond by press time.

In the meantime, the coalition seeks to meet with the IRC to demand answers; to explain why the maps that got overwhelming support were abandoned.

On Tuesday, 20 of the task force member organizations signed on to a letter to the IRC demanding a meeting.

“There was no vocal opposition to either the draft IRC AD 24 or keeping Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park together in one district in any of the IRC’s three public hearings over the course of the past two years that even remotely matched the overwhelming public support for creating a unified district,” the letter stated. It requested a meeting for next week.

When asked if a lawsuit is possible, Amin and OuYang said that all options are being explored at the moment.