The new City Council District lines released this week offer empowerment to some communities and political movements, but also worry Jewish activists who fear the dilution of their power as a voting bloc effective in defeating leftist candidates.
“The way the maps are made, things have to move around. Each district has to have a certain number of people, and it can’t deviate by five percent from the median,” said Howard Schonfeld, an activist who follows the redistricting process. “Linda Lee’s district had to add people to the district. A part of Hillcrest was added to her district, while Jim Gennaro’s district received a part of Jamaica.”
Schonfeld’s in-laws daven at Yeshiva Madreigas HaAdam, which along with the Young Israel of Hillcrest, will be drawn into District 23, represented by Lee. At the same time, the Torah Center of Hillcrest and the neighborhood’s mikvah will remain in District 24, represented by Gennaro. “Right now, a hard leftist cannot win, but with different demographics and lines, the election would not be fair.”
With the support of a mobilized Jewish community, Gennaro defeated leftist activist Moumita Ahmed last year in a closely watched, ranked-choice primary, the first of its kind in the city. But in District 23, leftist Jaslin Kaur was only 696 votes behind Lee. The Fresh Meadows and Hillcrest sections of this district have experienced an influx of new Bukharian homeowners. It is a community with the potential to determine the outcome of an election, but only if enough of its members register to vote in Democratic primaries.
Reflecting demographics, South Asian voters in both districts will have greater representation in both districts, while the East Asian and Jewish percentages would be reduced. At the same time, in Brooklyn, the Districting Commission carved out a district in Sunset Park that would have a larger population of Chinese American voters.
Jewish voters in Borough Park and along Ocean Parkway between Midwood and Gravesend would be united in a single district, and the lines for District 48, represented by Brooklyn’s lone Republican Inna Vernikov, would remain nearly unchanged, covering the politically conservative Russian and Orthodox Jewish communities who elected her last year.
Another Republican district that is likely to retain its incumbent is in southern Queens, where Joann Ariola won by two-thirds of the vote last year. In a mapping survey published by the CUNY Graduate Center, the percentage of white voters in District 32 would increase by three percent. “The voting block of the immigrant community will be diluted by a conservative voting block that encompasses Howard Beach, Beach Channel, and the Rockaways,” tweeted Felicia Singh, the progressive candidate who ran against Ariola. “This is a bad draft.”
The 15-member Districting Commission is made up of seven mayoral appointees, five appointees from the Council’s Democratic majority, and three from the Republican minority. Their decision on redistricting reflects population shifts, communities of interest, and neighborhood identities.
The panel is chaired by Dennis Walcott, a former schools chancellor and deputy mayor who serves as the president of Queens Library. Before the lines become final, the commission receives public input through letters, emails, and virtual forums. The commission then tweaks the lines to reflect public concerns, and the plan is then submitted to the City Council for approval.
By Sergey Kadinsky