Following the publication of “New Council Maps Threaten Our Electoral Gains,” by Sergey Kadinsky in our July 21 issue, consistent efforts have been made by the community to ensure that the Redistricting Commission keeps the 24th Council District united. Council Member James F. Gennaro, whose district is being broken apart, opened a Thursday evening, August 11, discussion standing alongside his Chief of Staff Henry Yam and his District Director and Jewish Community liaison Adam Suionov: “Tonight is about your concerns, not mine.”

Rabbanim and community leaders affected by the district line changes attended a meeting at the Young Israel of Hillcrest with Jeffrey M. Wice, an Adjunct Professor of Law at the New York Law School and a Senior Fellow at the New York Census and Redistricting Institute.

Rabbis included Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz of Yeshiva Madreigas HaAdam, Rabbi Yaniv Meirov of Chazaq, Rabbi Chaim Schwartz of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, Rabbi Hayim Schwartz of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Asher Shechter of Cong. Ohr Moshe. Community leaders were Sam Berkowitz of Holliswood/Hollis, Solomon Davidov who is experienced in Fresh Meadows, Michael Nussbaum representing JCRC-NY, Alan Sherman, Yaakov Serle, and representatives of the Bukharian community of Briarwood.

Over his 40-year career, Wice has worked with the Jewish community of New York City, most recently regarding the Congressional District lines alongside organizations including Agudath Israel of America and the Queens Jewish Alliance, chaired by Sorolle Idels.

Wice’s experience focuses on redistricting, voting rights, and census law, making him a national expert on the topic, assisting many state legislative leaders, members of Congress, and other state and local government officials on redistricting and voting rights matters across the nation.

During the 1980s, he developed the first national Democratic Party redistricting assistance program, working with state legislative leaders preparing for the 1990 Census and redistricting process. During the 1990s, he served as a counsel to President Bill Clinton’s appointees to the 2000 Federal Census Monitoring Board. Since the post-2000 and post-2010 redistricting cycles, Professor Wice served as counsel to the Democratic National Committee and other national redistricting projects.

In New York, he serves as a long-time counsel to the New York State Legislature and has assisted in all congressional and state legislative redistricting processes since the 1980 cycle, now five cycles. In New York City, he served as a counsel to the post-2000 and -2010 City Council redistricting commissions, now in his third cycle.

The meeting centered on how the Jewish community fits into the current draft map, and the process involved in making a change to the proposed lines.

The Federal government maintains equal population when, for its districts, so for every person, one vote is allocated, and so on throughout the state. It also considers the Voting Rights Act with its high amount of racially polarized voting, and candidates of choice meaning the creation of a minority district at 50% minority in the district that respects the desires of the constituents. Black, Hispanic, and Asian communities have succeeded in becoming minorities, but the Jewish communities never had such luck, because religion is not a criterion. Possibly, if anti-Semitism was just as terrible 50 years ago, things may be different today.

Recent State rules, which demand that no district should be populated by more than 5% from the largest to the smallest districts, make it much tighter to draw the district compared to the previous 10%. As a general rule, a compact district is one where a culture is shared and often follows a geometric shape. When the populate is required to cross water, it then falls under the need for public transportation to be made available.

An insular community like ours, with kosher regulations, Shabbos restrictions, and localized shuls, would be a community of interest with socio-economic or racial reasons that would encourage the district to remain intact.

Due to the late census delivery of data and the pandemic, the redistricting rules changed. Following a hearing at York College with the Commissioners, a draft plan was devised and put to review for 30 days. This follows with new public hearings where comments are sought, and this is where we stand now.

To date, well over 200 public comments have been submitted, and we now all urge residents of District 24 to implore of the Commissioners to keep us united and not split us the way they snipped off a piece of Kew Gardens Hills in the State Senate maps. Once the new hearings complete, a new plan will come out on September 22 for review by the City Council for a three-week period when the resolution will hopefully be approved, or they will return with specific suggestions and the process will restart in November. However, if the Council proposes no resolution, then it will dissipate permanently, but this has yet to occur.

For those interested, the 15-person Commission housed at 253 Broadway in Manhattan is chosen by the mayor (7 persons), Speaker of the Council (5), and City Council Minority Leader (3).

The census showed New York City had 630,000 new residents, over half of whom are Asian Americans.

Michael Nussbaum stated, “We will never be represented as Jews. Here we are minorities over minorities, and now minorities are becoming majorities. If we want Jewish representatives or those who will fight for our issues and values, we must speak out.” The communities with Jewish districts, like Districts 24 and 29, have always been special. Using a demographer, the JCRC-NY made recommendations that appear in the map, included in the ad from the Queens Jewish Community Council. It uses the LIE on the North and 188th Street on the East.

It was decided that there is strength in numbers, and the community should send in as many emails as possible for everyone aged 18 years and older, as we cannot expect the Commission to just do the right thing. There are also hearings that would benefit from in-person attendees.

It is about having a continuous district with one representative in the City Council allowing us to act as a community, speak out when we need to, and have one address to go to for our needs.

Rabbi Hayim Schwartz said, “To cut pieces out is like cutting out a kidney, spleen, or pancreas. There are other pockets of the Asian community that can replace these few blocks of the Jewish community, allowing them to go back into District 24.”

Please follow the instructions included and send off your emails ASAP to ensure that the Jewish community is not divided.

 By Shabsie Saphirstein