More public input requested on redistricting

In the wake of complaints over the new City Council district maps released on November 19, the Districting Commission has decided to hold another round of public hearings in January.

“The commission hear the public’s call for additional hearings,” said Benito Romano, the commission’s chairperson, who added, “It is only through public participation will the commission be able to create a district plan that accurately reflects the diversity of this city.”

To accomplish the additional round of hearings, on December 4, the commission withdrew the plan from the City Council at the request of council Speaker Christine Quinn. Had it not done that, and had the council not voted on it, after three weeks the plan would have been adopted.

Election district maps are drawn every 10 years, after the results of the U.S. Census are published. Federal and state districts have already been redrawn. The first maps produced by the commission were criticized for splitting communities in peculiar ways.

In the southwestern part of Brooklyn, residents of the Bay Ridge Towers were disappointed to see that, once again, the towers were not included in the Bay Ridge council district but instead were drawn into Sunset Park – an issue that was not resolved by the revised maps. The towers, which house over 800 families, are not part of the Bay Ridge congressional, assembly or state senate districts either.

In other parts of the borough, there were concerns that the districts drawn in Boro Park and Canarsie would dilute the influence of the respective communities  — the former by compressing what had been in two districts into one and the latter by breaking up a single neighborhood into two districts.

Both of those issues were corrected in the second set of maps, which nonetheless left advocates critical of the result. A particular sore spot in the second set of maps was a last-minute alteration in the lines that drew beleaguered Assemblymember Vito Lopez’s home into a district that could give him a political advantage should he decide to run next year for a council post. Lopez stepped down as the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party earlier this year after a sexual harassment scandal erupted.

Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union, criticized the “flawed process” that had led to the new set of maps, and particularly noted, “the reports that the City Districting Commission adjusted one council district to advantage Assemblymember Vito Lopez at the backroom request of a political ally.”

With Citizens Union calling for “additional public input and further changes,” Dadey also criticized the maps because, he said, they, “Seem to protect incumbents at the expense of better reflecting the significant input received from the public to create fairer districts which address the changed demographics of the city.”

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was also critical of the process that led to the redrawing of district lines potentially to benefit Lopez, and launched a push for legislation that would prevent similar situations from occurring in the future by requiring public disclosure of all communication to the districting commission, including private requests. The law would cover phone calls, meetings and written communications between elected or party officials, and their staff and representatives, and commission members and staff.

“We just witnessed a district being redrawn to pave the way for a serial sexual harasser to stay in elected office,” he said. “That’s just wrong. Voters deserve a real democratic process….Going forward, we need transparency to expose behind-the-scenes deals before they can reshape the political map.”

The dates of the next round of hearings have not yet been announced.

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