2012-02-15 / Features

Redistricting Plan Gets Scornful Reception

BY THOMAS COGAN


State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas both spoke at the LATFOR hearing. State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas both spoke at the LATFOR hearing. At the hearing of the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), held Tuesday afternoon, February 7 in Room 213 of Queens Borough Hall, state Senator Michael F. Nozzolio, an upstate Republican serving as co-chairman of LATFOR with Assemblymember John J. McEneny, an upstate Democrat, said he was glad to see the public had turned out in great numbers. Nozzolio noted that many of the people he said he was glad to see might not be quite so glad to see him: some Queens officials had heaped scorn on the proposed reapportionment plan for state and congressional districts. “No plan is perfect,” he said. He and McEneny then listened to many lengthy accounts of this plan’s imperfections.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall noted that the session was “one of the most important meetings we have ever had”. State Senator Michael Gianaris in the five minutes allotted him quickly went over the long presentation he’d prepared. Bypassing his own district or any other in Queens, he put up reapportioned senate maps from Nassau County, just beyond Queens; Westchester County, just north of the city, and Monroe County, in the mid-to-western part of the state. He said they provided examples of what is known as either “cracking” or “packing”. He called redistricting in Hempstead, Nassau County an example of cracking, which distributes a concentration of ethnic similarity into less similar areas. Hempstead’s concentration of black citizens was redistributed into four senatorial districts, Gianaris said, separating a solid black entity into four parts and putting them in four districts represented by white men. The same was done in Monroe County, where the entire city of Rochester was split into three senate districts. He carried his claim to Westchester, saying that in that county, the cities of White Plains, New Rochelle and Yonkers are either cracked or packed. A significant section of ethnic minorities in Senate District 37 is removed and placed in SD 35, reducing the minority population of SD 37, thus cracking it. At the same time, it adds to an already large minority population in SD 35, packing that district. The result, Gianaris said, is a diminution of minority ethnic representation in SD 37 and a dubious increase in SD 35, since the Republicans concede that the district is Democratic and dropping a surplus of assumed Democratic voters into it does Republicans no favors.

Councilmember and former Assemblymember Mark Weprin com- mented that lofty promises to keep communities together are not fulfilled in the senate and Assembly districts of Eastern Queens. He cited South Asian residents of Richmond Hill, an ethnic group mentioned often, since their advocates believed they had been unfairly redistricted out of adjacent South Ozone Park. He said that as they appeared on the new map, these districts looked like Rorschach tests, prompting fellow Democrat McEneny, whose Assembly district covers most of Albany, to reply that the maps drawn up by the good-government group Common Cause look like Rorschach tests too. Jamaica based Councilmember Ruben Wills said he wouldn’t accuse the senate’s mapmakers of racism, but racial friction is the likely result of their efforts. Councilmember Dan Halloran, the first local Republican to speak, said his own 19th Council District, covering Bayside and Whitestone, was the only naturallooking district anywhere, contrasting it with other districts on the state level, distorted by gerrymandering, the method of designing a district in tortuous ways to the designer’s advantage. “Our Founding Fathers didn’t want [gerrymandering]”, Halloran said. Gerrymandering takes its name from Elbridge T. Gerry (1744- 1814), himself a Founding Father and the founder of gerrymandering.

James Hong of the nonpartisan Asian- American Community Council said his group’s aim is proper representation of the people, not simply electing their own kind or establishing “ethnic power”. He said the LATFOR people did well in parts of Brooklyn and Queens but did not do well by splitting Richmond Hill from South Ozone Park. The new map for SD 16, including large parts of Flushing, is no improvement over the old one, he found. Wright Lim, a Korean-American, sought to conserve the old SD 16 and criticized the intrusion of parts of adjacent SD 11. But a woman from Korean Community Services called attempts to unify Koreans “skewed” and likely to make Koreans appear to be favored.

Vishnu Mahadeo, president of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Council, said he is one of 60,000 Indocaribbeans whose residential unity, currently spread across five Assembly districts, would be worsened on the new map by becoming part of six ADs. “We came here because we respect you,” he said. “Please respect us.”

The meeting lasted from mid-afternoon until far into the evening. LATFOR’s mapmaking elicited denunciations from groups such as those who came to the borough hall meeting and Common Cause, which offered some maps it had drawn up. Governor Andrew Cuomo is suspected to be about to veto the new bid, forcing LATFOR back to another long session of mapmaking and probably a new round of denunciations. The state constitution requires the redistricting.

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