BY DACHIELL ALLEN | Residents and community advocates fear that historically united neighborhood districts will be divided after the next round of state and congressional redistribution.
Redistribution is the process by which the congressional, state senate, and state assembly district lines are redrawn every 10 years to reflect the most recent census data.
Although historically a partisan process led by the state’s ruling party, the Democratic Party, this year New York is trying something a little different by forming a Independent constituency commission.
Led by the Democratic President David Imamura and Republican Vice President Jack Martins, former Long Island state senator, the commission still breaks along roughly partisan lines. So much so that he went out two decks of cards – the “Names” plan supported by the Republicans and the “letters” plan supported by the Democrats.
While census data dictates the number of people belonging to each district, the rows themselves are based on “communities of interestWhich can be defined according to the racial, socio-economic or religious makeup of a region.
At the congressional level in Lower Manhattan, the Democrat-backed plan primarily respects historic neighborhood boundaries, separating the East Side and West Side and carving out part of Chinatown and the Lower East Side for Congressman Nydia Velazquez . But in the Republican-backed “Names” plan, all of Lower Manhattan below 59th Street – and a tiny part of the Jewish town of Williamsburg – becomes one unprecedented single neighborhood.
At the state Senate level, the Republican name map holds Chinatown and the Lower East Side together, but disconnects them from the rest of Lower Manhattan, while stretching all the way to Brooklyn. The Dems’ Letters plan cuts out a small portion of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, keeping the rest of Lower Manhattan together. Current Senate lines include, roughly speaking, anything below 14th Street, as well as parts of Brownstone Brooklyn.
As for the Assembly, the district proposed by the Republican Names plan divides Chinatown and the Lower East Side in two, instead connecting them to Battery Park City. Meanwhile, Letters’ plan appears to roughly follow current district lines, which include Chinatown, the Lower East Side, and the Financial District, with Soho and Greenwich Village separated.
It is certainly a lot to digest, but the message from the neighbors of November 10 redistribution hearing was brilliantly clear: keep the East Side and West Side of Manhattan separate and keep Chinatown and the Lower East Side together.
“I think you know that historically the East Side, the West Side and the northern part of Manhattan have all had their own representation in Congress,” said Gale Brewer, president of the Manhattan borough. “And it’s a tradition that deserves to be preserved because it recognizes the distinctive character of each region. “
Other supporters of maintaining the historic east / west district boundaries included West Village activist Anthony Hoffman, a prominent member of the village’s Independent Democrats Club. He said Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s 10th Congressional District represents the “highest number of Jews in all congressional districts in the countryside.”
This point was echoed by Matt Nosanchuk, president and founder of the progressive organization New York Jewish Agenda. That’s why the neighborhood, as jagged as it sounds on a map, stretches from the progressive Upper West Side to the heavily Jewish but conservative Borough Park of Brooklyn.
The representative district of Velazquez, which was previously under the tutelage of the weakening 1965 Voting Rights Act being a majority minority, on the other hand, covers much of Chinatown and the Lower East Side and the Chinatown and Hispanic quarters of Sunset Park, Bushwick, and Williamsburg.
“Despite the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Voting Rights Act, which is very unfortunate, there is no reason why our state cannot continue to meet these criteria,” Brewer said.
When it comes to Chinatown and the Lower East Side, many advocates have expressed concern over how the plans – both names and letters – would divide their neighborhoods.
Alex Calafiura, a sophomore high school student in Chinatown, was the youngest person to testify. He told the redistribution commission that he was opposed to any plan to divide his neighborhood.
“We have to stick together in order to be able to defend our needs properly,” he stressed. “We want to make our voices heard.
“We will become more sensitive to the issues that have plagued Chinatown for years – the main one being gentrification,” he said. “The small businesses that were here all my life are gone. It is not fair.
Former city council candidate Jenny Low agreed. Any plan that divides Chinatown “would put salt on an open wound,” she said.
When asked by the commission to define the limits of Chinatown, Low said: “Going through Montgomery Street, going south to the area of Southbridge, going west, it would be on Broadway and then heading north to Houston Street. “
By definition, this places the so-called “Soho East” portion of the planned Soho / Noho rezoning area directly into Chinatown.
“After surviving the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, this tight-knit community has suffered over a century of government discrimination and neglect,” said Elizabeth OuYang, civil rights lawyer and adjunct professor at New York University.
“Already resisting daily displacement, how can this endangered community tackle a fourth prison, the spike in hate crimes in broad daylight and fierce gentrification on all sides, if they are both divided?” ” she said.
Jerry Vattamala, Democracy Program Director for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), said Chinatown and the Lower East Side represent one “community of interest”.
He also referred to a federal court case, Diaz vs. Silver, which states that Manhattan’s Chinatown and Brooklyn’s Chinese community in Sunset Park form a cohesive “community of interest” and therefore should be part of a single Congressional District, as it is now.
AALDEF has its own “Unit cardWhich, according to her, would ensure the most equitable representation of immigrant and minority communities.
Republican Vice President Martins has generally rejected calls to preserve historically defined district lines.
“Our task here is not and cannot be influenced by providing support to someone who may want the comfort of seeing their district not change and remain the same,” he said, adding: “We we are not an incumbent program “.
Members of the public are encouraged to submit their own neighborhood maps to the Independent Commission, as well as written testimony.
Ultimately, whatever card the committee chooses to come up with will be submitted to the Democratic-controlled state assembly for a final approval vote in January. If the members of the congregation don’t like what they see, they can abandon the plan and create their own.
“These maps are only drafts and they can, should and will be improved,” said committee chair Immamura.