The city’s Districting Commission voted down the revised maps that were going to be submitted to the City Council last week. It was a bit of a “surprise” considering an initial review of the maps shows that the commissioners had managed to address some community concerns.
The process of redistricting was triggered by the decennial census count. The districting commission is redrawing the city’s 51 council districts based on the changing population sizes and demographics of each neighborhood in every borough. The ideal size in each district has to be within the “5% deviation” state law, which is basically wiggle room in a range of 168,560 to 177,204 persons per council district, said the commission.
Maps are then produced and voted on. The maps are meant to be drawn in the interest of protecting racial and political minorities’ voting rights with adequate representation and not diluting any group’s political power. The challenge in drawing these plans this year was the city’s “explosive population growth” since 2010, especially among Asian and Hispanic groups, said the commission.
Since the commission released their first draft of the City Council district maps in July, over 9,600 submissions from New York residents have offered feedback on the proposed district lines. The latest maps left Harlem in District 9 and Western Queens in District 26 largely whole and reunited the Sunset Park and Red Hook in District 38 in Brooklyn, while dragging parts of Staten Island’s districts 49 and 50 into Brooklyn and creating a new majority Asian-American district in District 43 in South Brooklyn that cut deep into District 47.
The vote was a close 8-7 for rejecting the maps. The friction between the commissioners is reminiscent of the fallout of state redistricting commissioners who failed to agree on or submit congruent assembly, senate, and congressional maps.
Chair Commissioner Dennis Walcott voted yes to the maps and doubled down that despite the challenge the commission has done its job. In a later interview with WNYC, Walcott said that it was mostly expected that the maps would be voted through and denied that Mayor Eric Adams had reached out to sway his appointed commissioners. He also said that the reality of drawing the lines may not please everyone.
“I think the substance and the process has been adhered to,” said Walcott in the meeting. Commissioner Mike Schnall, who’s been adamant about keeping the three city council districts in Staten Island wholly on the island, was displeased in his comments before voting down the maps. “I took the position that if I wasn’t intimately familiar with a neighborhood, I would listen, observe, but not inject my uninformed viewpoint,” said Schnall in the meeting, “and what I saw in the mapping was a little upsetting and frankly unfair. A few individuals undid some of the work of the many, often at the last minutes of a mapping session.”
In addition to the perceived slight against Staten Island, The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) Action Executive Director Murad Awawdeh said in a statement that historically Black, Indo-Caribbean, South Asian, Dominican and other immigrant communities in Southeast Queens and in the Northwest Bronx were also not given fair representation in the proposed maps.
“I think it’s going to mean a growing stronger voice in our city government, more political power ultimately,” said NYIC Action Senior Strategist Asher Ross. “As we continue to have a more and more diverse city and we have certain groups that are growing quickly. These groups are really organizing and making their voices heard.”
Ross floated the idea that there should be more than 51 city council districts to adequately represent the city’s diverse population.
Citizens Union’s Ben Weinberg said that there’s better laws governing the city council redistricting process as opposed to the state. There was little public input in the state process and it was also the first time the state redistricting commission had been convened, said Weinberg. This is the fourth city council redistricting process and it has already managed to get more community engagement early on.
“At least it’s not deadlocked,” said Weinberg.
The commission hopes to reconvene to vote on the re-revised maps by Oct. 6 to give to the city council enough time to review them. There’s concern there won’t be time for more public input if the commission can’t meet its final deadline on Dec. 7.
The commission is holding deliberation meetings via Zoom on the proposed maps this Thursday, Sept. 29, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday, Sept. 30, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
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