Once every decade, the City’s Council district lines go in for an overhaul. According to the city charter, the lines must be redrawn in order to reflect the shifting population of the city and keep communities intact. Each of the city’s 51 districts always changes at least a little bit, usually around the borders, gaining or losing small sections in order to keep the balance.
This time around, however, the Districting Commission has proposed changes in northern Manhattan that critics and communities are decrying as radical and unfair. On the Upper West Side, much of the neighborhood falls squarely within District 6, currently represented by Gale Brewer. Above West 96th Street, the current lines allot the area of Manhattan Valley to District 8, Melissa Mark-Viverito’s district, and a western slice of the Upper West Side to District 7, represented by Inez Dickens. The proposed changes, however, would shift district 8 out of the Upper West Side entirely, and would divide Manhattan Valley into three different council districts.
“First and foremost, it’s a pretty drastic and dramatic move in terms of eliminating 30 percent of anybody’s district,” said Council Member Mark-Viverito about the proposed changes to her district. “An area that is represented by one council member, that is now represented by three districts—the idea that keeping communities intact is completely obliterated.”
Mark-Viverito has been pounding the pavement and speaking to community groups, encouraging people in her district to speak out against what she believes are preposterous changes, especially in a part of East Harlem that would also be divided into three districts.
At a public hearing Oct. 4, hundreds of residents came out to express their thoughts about the proposed boundaries, and many people spoke against the uptown changes in particular.
“It was disappointing that the commission’s proposal ignored the desires of the community between 96th Street and 110th Street on the West Side to be represented by one elected official that could be accountable to their needs instead of spread across multiple elected officials,” Council Member Dickens said in her statement at the hearing.
Brian Paul, the research and policy coordinator for Common Cause/NY, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, also testified at the hearing that his organization was similarly baffled by those decisions regarding the Upper West Side and Harlem.
“We testified that the draft that was put out by the commission was supposed to be a least-changed baseline, where they just adjust the current district for population while making sure it complies with the Voting Rights Act,” Paul said.
“Through the rest of the city, that’s what they seemed to do, but they seemed to change district 8 much more dramatically than it had to be changed.”
He explained that from their point of view, Manhattan Valley doesn’t need to stay within district 8, but it should stay intact and represented by a single council member.
The 15-person redistricting commission is made up of five members appointed by the council’s Democratic Caucus, three by the Minority Caucus, and seven by the mayor. It devises the lines based on census data and other demographics, but it also takes public comment into account and has asked people to come to hearings and tell the commission about their neighborhoods and where the natural boundaries should be.
“The preliminary draft map reflects adjustments according to population shifts due to the 2010 Census numbers,” Districting commission Public affairs manager Shirley Limongi said in an email. “This map is exactly what it means: preliminary. It will most likely change with the revised map that we are supposed to present on Oct. 30.”
Mark-Viverito said that she hopes the Commission will hear the need to revise the uptown lines, and that she has yet to hear a satisfactory answer as to how they were created in the first place.
“I’ve heard many different things, and it’s not consistent,” Mark-Viverito said. “The other thing that raises the level of outrage for me is that they don’t seem to be informed as to what our communities are. When you have the commission recommend that La Marqueta [in East Harlem], which is an iconic landmark, be split or taken out of the district, it makes me question their knowledge.”
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