Last week, on Thursday, September 22, the Redistricting Commission held a public meeting to vote on sending the Commission’s Revised Plan to the City Council. The Commission subsequently declined to send these maps to the Council. There was a presentation of the draft, including a description of the redrawn 51 City Council districts and a Racial Bloc Voting (“RBV”) analysis by Dr. Lisa Handley, a national expert on redistricting and voting rights. Her analysis showed that the draft revised plan followed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to provide minority voters with an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. To reflect the city’s major new population changes and bring the new districts in line with the new “5% deviation” state law, the Revised Plan has a range of 168,560 to 177,204 persons per council district. The maps were revised from the preliminary plan to equalize the population among all 51 council districts.
After hearing concerns from commissioners for potential further edits to the map, the Commission voted not to submit the draft revised plan to City Council, but the Commission made the rejected plan available to the public at nyc.gov/districting in the hopes of helping inform the public on the workings of the Commission.
Additionally, the Commission agreed to host two virtual Public Meetings on Thursday and Friday, September 29 and 30, to discuss revisions to the Plan. The Districting Commission released a preliminary plan of the City Council districts on July 15. Pursuant to the City Charter, the Commission must revise the plan and vote to submit it to City Council.
A new plan is drawn by the Districting Commission every ten years following the US Census. The Commission is made up of 15 members appointed by the Mayor and the City Council. The Commission drew this plan following the requirements under the US Constitution, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), state law, and the City Charter of New York. The challenge in drawing these plans this year was the city’s explosive population growth since the census in 2010: The City grew by 630,000 people – the equivalent of the entire population of the city of Memphis. Fifty-five percent of this new population is Asian, and 24 percent is Hispanic.
To Whom It May Concern:
I am aware of and grateful that the Redistricting Commission voted down the most recent (September 22) updated proposal for the Redistricting Map. In particular, I remain extremely apprehensive about the updated proposal for District 24.
Unfortunately, the Commission failed to “keep intact neighborhoods and communities with established ties of common interest and association, whether historical, racial, economic, ethnic, religious, or other.” As a member of the Orthodox Jewish Community, I am shocked that after so many pleas to preserve and keep our community together, the Commission presented a proposal that once again does the exact opposite.
District 24 in its current configuration is home to tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews, thousands of Orthodox Jewish families, almost a hundred Orthodox synagogues, and many other Jewish community centers and ritual facilities. Every one of these facilities is utilized every day of the week, multiple times a day, by children and adults alike. By any meaningful metric, the Orthodox Jewish Community of District 24 is in a sustained period of growth. I am therefore compelled to state the following:
The updated proposed redistricting maps for City Council are not in our community interest in their current form. The Jewish community in the current configuration of Council District 24 is composed of the combined Sefardi and Ashkenazi communities. Our two communities are unified in interest and location, each with members and shuls interspersed amongst each other. We are one contiguous chain, linking together Kew Gardens Hills, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, and Jamaica Estates. Though there are pockets of our community in other areas, as well, this chain of neighborhoods represents the largest Jewish voice of Queens, and cutting any portion out would result in an unacceptable disenfranchisement.
The proposed change to the current District map completely disregards the reality on the ground. It artificially and needlessly separates many community members from the community facilities that serve them. Furthermore, the seemingly arbitrary lines harmfully cut off one community and congregation from its fellow community and congregation. The net result is a weakened Orthodox Jewish community, structurally, demographically, and politically.
As if to add insult to injury, the section that has been added to District 24 in the updated proposed redistricting map is the only part of Rego Park without an Orthodox Jewish community! Never mind that the proposed area shares no common interest or association, it’s not even geographically logical. Had the proposal instead added immediately westward and included sections of Forest Hills up until 108th Street, it would have been more understandable. At least in that direction there is a very large Orthodox Jewish presence with common communities and established ties of interest and association. This would also have made more sense geographically due to the connecting Jewel Avenue, rather than adding the only part of Rego Park that is separated from the current District 24 by Flushing Meadow Corona Park, the Grand Central Parkway, and the Van Wyck Expressway.
Finally, I cannot understand the Commission’s desire to dissociate from the Kew Gardens Hills (KGH) community the neighborhoods of Cedar Grove and Flushing on the Hill. These communities have always been part of the KGH and Queens College Communities. Queens College itself has thousands upon thousands of Jewish students. It makes no sense to cut them off from the larger District and place them in a District with absolutely no geographic or cultural connection.
For these reasons I strongly believe that the redistricting proposal’s continued disregard for the Jewish community are damaging to the community’s very fabric, its unified voice, and its interests. I implore the Redistricting Committee to keep to the criteria it is charged to uphold.
Compiled by Shabsie Saphirstein