The City Council Redistricting Commission will hold another five hearings in each of the boroughs to get public testimony on these new preliminary maps released in July. The most recent one having kicked off in Astoria, Queens this Tuesday.
“I think that with the first round of public hearings, people came in person, virtually, or submitted their testimony of over 500 responses. I think that was a good first step,” said Dennis Walcott, chair of the NYC Council Redistricting Commission. “I think we’ll see even more people at the next round of public hearings.”
Walcott said the commission’s goal is to reach out to the public for input as much as possible in a variety of ways, and making adjustments is part of the process.
The preliminary plan includes a controversial “Asian opportunity district” in South Brooklyn that covers parts of Sunset Park, Dyker Heights, and Bensonhurst. According to racial bloc voting under the federal Voting Rights Act, the commission is required to protect minority voting power. In the racial bloc voting analysis meeting last week, an expert hinted that the commission may be required to draw one or two wholly Asian American districts.
“Basically to acknowledge the changes in population in the last 10 years and the increase in Asian populations versus the parallel rapid reduction in the white population,” said Citizens Union’s Ben Weinberg.
The commission has been criticized for having a “lack of transparency” in its decision making processes, said Weinberg. He said that the presentation on racial bloc voting was a “positive step” but it didn’t include reasons behind why they have formed the preliminary map as it is.
“If they’re deciding everything behind the scenes and only show up to the public meeting to say ‘yes I agree’ then it’s not a very public process. The whole point of a public meeting under the open meetings law is to show the public how decisions are made,” said Weinberg.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Dan Kaminsky, a policy manager at Citizens Union, testified that the commission should explain the reasoning behind line drawing decisions, most notably the proposed plan to keep three whole city council districts on Staten Island. In order to satisfactorily keep all three districts on the island and not split between other boroughs, the commission used up most of the “legally allowed population deviation.”
Kaminsky said that the organization was equally concerned about “recent reports about possible backroom deals between appointing authorities, and their influence over mapping decisions.”
At the very least, the commission has decided to hold a public hearing in Harlem after multiple sources campaigned for a meeting to be closer to impacted communities.
The next hearings will be Thursday, Aug. 18 at Staten Island Borough Hall; Sunday, Aug. 21 at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn; and Monday, Aug. 22 at the Schomburg Center in Harlem.
Testimony may also be provided via Zoom during the public hearings or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w