Each decade following the census, federal, state, and city legislative districts have their lines adjusted for changes in the population. The lines reflect communities of interest, based on their ethnicity, race, and income, among other factors. While the Jewish community has been successful in keeping most of Fresh Meadows within the same district as Kew Gardens Hills, in Forest Hills the story is different.
“The City Council Districting Commission map is set to divide the Bukharian Jewish Community of Forest Hills and Rego Park into three separate Council districts,” Forest Hills resident David Aronov wrote. “This will dilute the community’s voice and further prevent any chance of representation.”
Last year, Aronov ran in the Democratic primary for the 29th Council seat, coming in third place behind Lynn Schulman. Seeking to make history in his community, many of his votes came from the portions of Rego Park and Forest Hills sandwiched between the Long Island Expressway and 64th Avenue. These blocks contain more than a dozen co-op apartments with sizable numbers of Bukharian Jews. At the end of this year, they will be placed within the 24th District, which is located almost entirely on the east side of Flushing Meadows.
On the opposite side of the district, the neighborhood of Richmond Hill used to be divided between three districts and is now entirely within the 29th District. This change reflects more than a decade of political advocacy by that neighborhood’s Indo-Caribbean community to be united within a single district. Having the new lines gives a community clout, as its schools and nonprofit organizations stand a better chance at receiving funding from the City Council for their programs. With participatory budgeting, residents of a united neighborhood can also gather in larger numbers to provide funding for their wish-list items, such as renovation projects in schools, libraries, and parks.
“This is shortchanging the Bukharian community, as it has nothing in common with Corona and East Elmhurst,” said Ahuva Yelizarova, a resident of Forest Hills. “A sliver of a district has no say in the election process; it would not receive resources.” Having volunteered on Aronov’s campaign, she argues that the lines ensure Schulman’s reelection and discourage Bukharians who have intentions of running for office.
The removal of the northern blocks of Forest Hills from the 29th District reduces the clout of families from two elementary schools, and four playgrounds. These schools and parks are used by people from the 24th and 29th Districts.
As is the case with Council districts, the State Senate and Assembly lines also break up Rego Park and Forest Hills, putting residents of the Park City Estates co-op in the same district as Corona and East Elmhurst, while the residents of this complex attend schools and synagogues, and shop in the districts encompassing the rest of these neighborhoods.
In the State Senate, District 13 is represented by Jessica Ramos, a progressive Democrat. Would seven residential blocks of Rego Park and Forest Hills – whose demographics do not match with the hundreds of blocks on the opposite side of the Long Island Expressway – feel properly represented in this district? Most of the students in the two elementary schools in this salient do not live in Ramos’ district.
Another district where Russian-speaking voters feel short-changed is in southern Brooklyn, where former journalist and political staffer Ari Kagan was elected last year. His present district covers Coney Island, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach. The new lines extend his district west with a single-block panhandle to cover Bay Ridge. His home was placed outside the district that he represents, which would require him to move in order to keep his seat. “I’m not going to disappear, that’s for sure,” said Kagan at a Sukkos event earlier this month. “I am definitely running for reelection. But I’m fighting this map and I strongly believe it will be changed. These lines break up neighborhoods.”
To date, Schulman has not issued a statement concerning her district’s loss of more than a dozen blocks. Their new councilman, Jim Gennaro, is not a stranger to these parts, having represented them in his first stint on the Council between 2001 and 2013. At that time, District 24 had nearly an identical panhandle that covered portions of Rego Park and Forest Hills.
The city’s Districting Commission sent the new lines to the City Council three weeks ago, with the final deadline for approval scheduled for Wednesday, December 7.
By Sergey Kadinsky