New controversy surrounds “Super Jewish” district

The pitfalls of drawing district lines that address the needs and preferences of Brooklyn’s diverse population are increasingly clear as people alternately applaud and deride aspects of the redistricting proposals drafted by the two legislative bodies in Albany, as well as by a federal judge who stepped in to try to create congressional lines that reflect the needs of residents rather than elected officials.

So on the one hand, there are Asian-Americans in Sunset Park and Bensonhurst celebrating the proposal to create a majority Asian district that would give them their second bite at sending a legislator to Albany

But in Boro Park, the situation is strikingly different, as a group of community leaders along with City Councilmember David Greenfield gathered Tuesday to voice opposition to the so-called “Super Jewish” district proposed for a broad swath of Brooklyn that includes Boro Park, Midwood, Flatbush and Kensington, which many Orthodox Jews call home. The district would combine portions of six senate districts into one “Super Ghetto,” according to Greenfield, who contends it is deleterious to the residents.

“When we looked at it,” he explained, “our top goal was not necessarily electing someone from the community, it’s being able to influence a group of races and make sure the best person is elected. Now, we have six senators to go to for constituent issues, funding, legislative issues. Having one senator would be a significant loss for the community.”

For communities with fewer people, Greenfield added, concentrating them in a single district can increase political clout, but, he contended, “We have a quarter of a million people. Essentially they are diluting the power of the community by limiting it to one individual.”

Greenfield testified before the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR)

But, not everyone agrees. Assemblymember Dov Hikind enthusiastically supports the switch to a single state senator to represent the Orthodox Jewish community, and says that many in the Orthodox community, such as those affiliated with Agudath Israel, share his perspective.

“I am 100 percent behind the new district,” Hikind asserted. “Every other group – Blacks, Latinos, Asians – want a district to represent the people who live there. Everyone else wants it and we suddenly have a philosophy of the more elected officials the better?”

Now, Hikind noted, Boro Park alone is represented by four state senators, none of whom has an office in the neighborhood. “Do we get more resources in Boro Park because of that? Not that I’m aware of,” he noted. “It’s unfair to take a district and cut it into four or five pieces. It’s an argument I don’t understand, but everyone is entitled to their point of view.”

Another reason why the “Super Jewish” district has drawn a good deal of interest is that it contains a large portion of the current 27th Senatorial District formerly represented by Carl Kruger, who resigned in disgrace in December. This seat is currently being sought by Democratic Councilmember Lew Fidler and Republican David Storobin, a vice chair of the county GOP.

Assuming the lines stay as they now are, whoever wins that seat on March 20 – and odds favor Fidler who has held public office since 2002 – will have to decide whether to run in the new “Super Jewish district” or another district containing portions of the 27th, which could mean a face-off between Fidler and popular southwest Brooklyn State Senator Marty Golden.

That’s an idea that Fidler has squashed, saying he would run for re-election in the district that contains the largest portion of the 27th — the “Super Jewish” district. His other option as the lines are currently drawn would be to run in the district in which his house is located – which, thanks to a rather peculiar drawing of district lines, is represented by another powerful Democrat, Senate Minority Leader John Sampson.

Whatever lines are put into place must be approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had previously indicated he would veto lines not drawn by an independent redistricting commission. However, he has recently hedged his language on the issue, leading advocates to worry that he will ultimately approve what many view as overly partisan lines. The lines must also pass muster with the Department of Justice, as Brooklyn is subject to the federal Voting Rights Act.

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