After months of hearings and a review of roughly 9,600 pieces of testimony and proposals submitted, the commission charged with reconfiguring the city’s legislative borders enters its next phase: voting on a revised set of map proposals on Thursday.

The proposed maps, if approved, will then be reviewed by the City Council over the next few weeks. The maps will ultimately be used in next year’s elections.

Similar to the process that took place for state legislative and congressional district lines that led to separate primary contests this summer, the council redistricting process is set to reshape the balance of power at the local district level for the next decade, with concrete implications for communities when it comes to resources and representation.

For communities who have seen shifts in their population, the new lines may trigger changes in political power that won’t please everyone.

“It's not going to be a popularity contest,” said Dennis Walcott, chair of the NYC Districting Commission, the body tasked with redrawing the legislative lines, while appearing as a guest on WNYC’s "The People’s Guide to Power" on Sunday. “When you're dealing with a city as large as 8.8 million people, and you have people who are used to a district being a certain way for 10 years, you're going to have people who are going to react one way or the other.”


LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE OF "THE PEOPLE’S GUIDE TO POWER": REDISTRICTING


The 15-member commission — composed of seven mayoral appointees, five from the council majority and three from the minority — spent the better part of the summer presiding over testimony since it released its first draft of the new lines in July. That information, along with its own set of criteria, served as the DNA for shaping the new district boundaries.

The initial maps were largely not well received, with some saying the proposed districts further diluted the political power of minority communities, reducing their chance of electing a representative whose values largely reflect theirs.

Here’s what you need to know about the biggest changes in the new draft maps and what happens before the lines are finalized:

What are the biggest proposed changes in the new draft maps?

The proposed maps provided to Gothamist show that some of the controversial portions of the initial maps were reversed, with some new additions:

  • A proposal to fold a portion of the Upper East Side into the Queens-dominated 26th Council District — which angered the district’s current legislator, Councilmember Julie Won — has been reversed, keeping the district entirely in Queens.
  • A reversal to split up Brooklyn’s Latino communities in Sunset Park and Red Hook that are currently covered by the 38th Council District, represented by Alexa Avilés.
  • Staten Island’s 50th Council District will now include Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, a major change from the initial maps that kept Staten Island districts from crossing into another borough. It’s the first time in 20 years that a Staten Island district crossed into another borough.
  • The commission is keeping a new Asian-majority district in Brooklyn, falling mostly within the existing 43rd Council District, increasing the majority community’s chances of electing a legislator who reflects the community’s demographics.
  • Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park — predominantly South Asian communities with shared characteristics — are now covered by two council districts instead of four.

Let’s go back a few months. Why did the commission form and what’s gotten us to this point?

The commission formed early this year as part of a legal mandate to reconfigure all 51 City Council districts in New York City based on the latest census tally. The commission is formed to redraw maps based on the city’s new population numbers tallied by the Census Bureau, abiding by a set of rules that help govern the look of these maps.

“Our charge is really: How do we fit an additional 630,000 residents into the existing 51 council districts?” Walcott said. That number reflects the increase in the city’s census numbers since the last redistricting in 2012.

A first set of maps was created and released to the public in July following weeks of input from the public on where communities begin and end.

What was the reaction to the first draft maps in July?

The maps were not well received. Some of the proposed districts set up potential battles between current incumbents in the City Council.

For example, south Brooklyn council members Justin Brannan and Alexa Avilés, who currently represent neighboring districts, issued a joint statement criticizing how the draft put them in the same district and split the Latino communities in Sunset Park and Red Hook (the changes have since been reversed).

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams also warned that the draft lines could dilute the power of Black voters in southeast Queens, where her district is located. She also said the South Asian community there was “unfairly divided,” signaling a fight over the second draft of the maps.

Under the process mandated by the City Charter, the commission held a second set of public hearings this summer to give the public, elected officials and special interest groups a chance to provide feedback, some of which was incorporated into the new version.

What’s happening tomorrow?

The commission is set to convene and vote on a revised set of district lines.

What were some rules the commission has had to follow when creating the maps?

Because of a federal rule that mandates legislative districts are mostly equally apportioned – and because New York City is home to 8.8 million residents – the commission needed to redraw maps so that an average 172,882 people (8.8 million divided by 51 council districts) fit into each district. But that’s just one factor.

The commission must ensure districts remain in one borough (not a complete hard-and-fast rule, since there are exceptions), not benefit one political party over another (a political tactic called “gerrymandering”) and keep historically marginalized groups together in accordance with the federal Voting Rights Act. The commission also sought to keep so-called communities of interest — those with shared cultural, religious, or ethnic characteristics — under one district to ensure political influence.

Before the first map was released, the commission held a hearing in each borough to solicit feedback on how to best define their communities.

Where can I find a copy of the maps once they’re approved for release?

The draft maps will be available here.

Okay, so these maps are still just proposed? What happens once the City Council gets them?

Yes, these maps are not set in stone yet.

The City Council has until Oct. 13 to decide whether to approve the second draft maps, which would be through a resolution (the entire City Council is scheduled to meet on Oct. 12). They might just be satisfied with the commission’s revisions and approve them or ask the panel to go back to the drawing board, so to speak.

And if they approve the maps?

If they approve the maps, then that’s it! The process is essentially over.

The commission will then file the maps by Dec. 7 to the city clerk’s office, which administers the maps, where they will become live early next year.

With that out of the way, members of the council might begin laying the groundwork for gaming out their plans for re-election next year. Under the City Charter, elections must be held after the new maps are live.

But what if the City Council still objects to the revised maps?

The commission will have more work on its hands.

If the City Council rejects the map it will trigger another round of hearings — one per borough — to once again solicit feedback from the public, elected officials and other stakeholders on what tweaks need to be made.

When would I be able to take part in a hearing?

The commission hasn’t set any hearing dates (perhaps on the chance that the City Council will actually approve these maps), but it will have to come up with dates before Dec. 7, when the commission is expected to complete its work. In between that time, the commission is archiving the submissions that were part of the work and submitting them to the city’s municipal archives division.

Like previous meetings, anyone can speak before the commission to offer input on the map. The topics could range from how they define their community of interest, why it’s important to keep one segment of the population together and why even tiny changes to a map pose significant problems ahead.

If you want to visualize the look of your own proposed map, you might want to consider this free map-making tool that will help strengthen your case on why a map should look a certain way.

Are there any indications the council might accept this version?

While we have no idea which way the City Council is going to swing on this, incumbents are likely to have a loud voice in this process. Current members are in position to reject the draft map, and various stakeholders are likely to keep up the lobbying pressure until the maps are finalized.

Does the City Council get the final word?

No. Unlike the state level, the council does not have the final say. Even if they reject a third draft following a round of hearings, the commission will decide the look of the maps. And the council is barred from suing to reverse the commission’s ruling.