The commission charged with reshaping the New York City Council’s district lines wants even more public input on how to reconfigure them, postponing the preliminary release of the proposed maps.
Like Congressional districts, Council lines are redrawn every ten years with the latest U.S. Census data. The NYC Districting Commission, a 15-member panel composed of mayoral and Council appointees, was supposed to release the maps on June 7th, nearly two weeks after it held what would have been its sole hearing asking New Yorkers how the maps should look. With roughly 200 people attending the May 26th hearing at Pace University, the commission decided this week that there was enough public interest to expand the number of hearings.
“We really want to go out more into the communities, into the five boroughs, and really hear back from the public as far as their views around their particular neighborhood, and then factor that into our decision-making,” Dennis Walcott, the chair of the commission, said this week on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC.
The times and locations of the hearings are still being worked out. A final decision is expected Wednesday.
There will be one meeting per borough, with the exception of Manhattan, given the May 26th public hearing, the commission announced. It will ask New Yorkers to weigh in on how the contours of the Council’s 51 districts should be redrawn, specifically outlining their neighborhood boundaries. The maps must be in place by next February when all of the current 51 Council seats will be up for election, two years after members winning their seats in last year’s city election. A typical term for a Council member is four years.
The commission is bound by a set of rules to ensure maps are contiguous, roughly maintain the same number of residents (about 173,000 people), and keep historically marginalized neighborhoods under one district.
Walcott said the public will not be subject to the kinds of hijinks it saw during the state-led redistricting process, which resulted in delays, lawsuits and ultimately two primary contests scheduled for this year.
“We have been working as a full team of commissioners with the purpose of really drawing fair and balanced maps and not allowing partisan gerrymandering,” Walcott said, later adding “I just don’t see that happening and that’s just not our style.”
Once draft maps are released they will be presented to members of the Council for review. The commission, unlike a similar state-sanctioned redistricting body, will have the final say over the look of the maps. They must be in place by February 7th, 2023 to allow those seeking office to acquire the necessary signatures needed to campaign in a given district.
The redistricting process has prompted coalitions such as the Asian Pacific American VOICE Redistricting Task Force to organize a series of workshops to help New Yorkers better understand the map-making process. Asian communities saw a 33% surge across the five boroughs, and now represent 15% of the city’s population.
Mohamed Amin, executive director of the Caribbean Equality Project and member of the APA VOICE Redistricting Task Force, testified at the May 26th public hearing and pushed to keep the neighborhood of Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park under one district. The areas are currently divided into three.
“These district lines have diluted our political power, vote and voice for decades,” Amin said. “Redistricting is a racial justice, immigrant rights and quality of life issue.”
Walcott said the commission is factoring in the growth of these ethnic populations.
Linda Lam, an Elmhurst resident, testified that her neighbors in a residential section of the 25th Council District have often voiced concerns about property assessments, sidewalks and city transportation to the sitting member of the 30th Council District. Lam said the district more closely aligns with the interests of her neighborhood, and should be lumped into the 30th District.
“[W]hen we go and ask for services, our voice can be louder and we do not have to say that, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not from your district, but I would like to have services from your offices,’” Lam said.