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Redistricting or redistribution of power?

COUNCIL MEMBER CHARLES BARRON | 3/9/2012, 11:47 a.m.
On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Roanne Mann completed the task of drawing new congressional district lines...
June 26, Brooklyn battles for Congress: Barron and Jeffries

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Roanne Mann completed the task of drawing new congressional district lines in New York, and the results are suspect.

Mann was appointed by a three-judge panel to draw up new district lines after the state Legislature failed to do so. However, we must be extremely vigilant and pay close attention to Mann's proposed new lines.

Irrespective of the impact these new district lines may have on individual races, we must not be shaded from the larger picture: Black and Latino electoral empowerment. Historically, we have fought long and hard for Black and Latino political empowerment. All across the country, there are attempts to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters through schemes like the requirement of voter ID or drawing lines that politically divide our communities.

After thorough review of these plans, I also noticed that, racially, the white congressional districts would be more solidified with an overwhelming majority population, making it almost impossible for them to lose any power. For example, the new 27th District is 92.7 percent white; the 21st District, 91.6 percent white; the 23rd District, 90 percent white; the 19th District, 86 percent white; the 20th District, 79 percent white; the 24th District, 83 percent white; the 1st District, 77.9 percent white, and the beat goes on. The whites are secure in their power base.

When it comes to the Black districts, the highest percentage of Blacks in a district under this plan is the new 8th Congressional District--formerly the 10th Congressional District, currently headed by Rep. Ed Towns--with 58 percent Blacks. Rep. Yvette Clark's district was 55 percent Black but was changed so dramatically that it now includes neighborhoods in Brooklyn that are non-Black, making her position vulnerable. Rep. Greg Meeks' district is 55 percent Black but still 45 percent other.

Under the new plan, Rep. Charlie Rangel's Harlem district is primarily Latino and a little over 30 percent Black and over 20 percent white. This is the district of former Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, who fought to have a Black congressional district in Harlem; now that will no longer exist.

We must be aware of redistricting plans that redistribute power and thus disempower the Black and Latino communities. This plan is not final. The state Legislature still has an opportunity to make changes. I am calling on all of our leaders in the Senate and the Assembly not to gloat about new lines that may individually favor them but keep the bigger picture in mind. Otherwise else we will drastically lose many of the gains that so many died for in the 1960s.

There have been attempts in the past to secure seats in majority Black districts. Remember David Yassky's attempt to take the congressional seat formerly held by Shirley Chisholm and Major Owens in Brooklyn? Clarke, who is now the congressional representative of that district, won that election in 2006. Blacks and Latinos must not let them divide and conquer us. We must stay united and prioritize our people over personal and political interests.

Remember, our struggle is long, but the victory is certain.