2011-09-14 / Front Page

Marshall Calls For In-Borough Congressional Districts

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall called upon the state task force charged with redistricting to keep Queens whole.

“Protecting our neighborhoods and fighting for our needs requires cohesive representation [and] the importance of wholly contained districts inside each borough is of the utmost importance,” Marshall said in testimony to the New York state Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) at Queens Borough Hall on September 7.

The United States Constitution requires congressional and state legislative district boundaries redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes from the most recent (2010) census. The New York state task force aids the legislature by providing plans and timetables for the reapportionment of districts.

Councilmember Karen Koslowitz gave an example of both the issue and task, telling LATFOR that four state senate districts cover the neighborhoods of Rego Park and Forest Hills. “I strongly urge uniting the district and giving the people of Rego Park and Forest Hills the kind of representation they deserve,” she said.

There are 435 seats in Congress and New York state is losing two in the redistricting. The state legislature requires 150 Assembly districts; the size of state senate districts is determined by constitutional formula (currently there are 62). Districts must contain essentially the same number of people in accordance with the principle of one person, one vote. In addition, the federal Voting Rights Act requires that new boundaries be drawn in a manner providing minority communities with opportunities to elect representatives of their choice. Final approval by the state legislature and the governor is required, and in The Bronx, Kings and New York Counties, by the Department of Justice as well, for compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

The population of Asian minorities in Queens rose 32 percent over the last decade and at a rate 17 times faster than overall growth in the borough, yet no Asian state senators or U.S. Congressional representatives serve Queens, according to testimony submitted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“We are very mindful of complying with the letter and spirit of the U.S. Voting Rights Act,” state Senator Michael Nozzolio, cochair of the task force, commented.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he would veto any plan that does not meet his criteria for fairness. Cuomo proposed the creation of an independent commission, but legislation introduced in the Assembly was not approved in the senate. LATFOR consists of six members, four from the state legislature and two non-legislators.

Cuomo’s commission consisted of eight members, four appointed by the governor, and four by each of the two major parties in the legislature. Critics of the current task force contend legislators essentially draw their own boundaries. State Senator Michael Gianaris told the task force he favored a commission such as the one recommended by Cuomo. “It is very unlikely (LATFOR) will produce a fair plan,” Gianaris said.

Marshall said the 2010 census shortchanged the borough by at least 100,000 people. While the city of New York formally challenged the count in August, any adjustment in the census would come too late to alter the reapportionment of districts.

There is also dispute about how to count approximately 57,000 state and federal prisoners. A lawsuit filed against LATFOR by a group of state senators seeks to return to counting prisoners as residents of districts where they are incarcerated. Last year, then Governor David Paterson approved a plan counting prisoners in their home districts.

With a tentative date of Apr. 24, 2012 set for the New York presidential primary, Assemblymember John McEnemy, co-chair of the task force, said, “The state legislature is going to have to vote on [redistricting] by late February or early March.”

Once preliminary maps with the new district lines are drawn up in October, LATFOR will hold a second round of hearings in late November and early December. “Generally, this is a thankless task. Nobody is ever going to be happy,” McEnemy said.

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