News | Morningside Heights

New Council lines may still pose problems

New York’s Districting Commission did little to assuage concerns that its redrawn City Council lines would divide Upper Manhattan communities.

The plan adopted Thursday could put in place many of the changes proposed in earlier draft maps, which have been met with strong opposition from local politicians and residents.

The commission will now send the plan to the council for approval. Unless the council raises any objections within three weeks of receiving the proposal, it will be forwarded to the Department of Justice, which will then have 60 days to either accept or reject the new district lines.

The new maps for Upper Manhattan are similar to draft maps the commission released in September, which local politicians and residents have loudly opposed but with several important changes.

The new maps put most of Washington Heights and Inwood in Ydanis Rodriguez’s 10th District, while putting Hamilton Heights, Manhattanville, and all of Morningside Heights in Robert Jackson’s 7th District. While the previous draft maps divided Columbia’s Morningside campus down Amsterdam Avenue, the new maps place the entire campus in the 7th District.

But the new maps maintain some significant changes to council member Melissa Mark-Viverito’s 8th District, which would lose its current Manhattan Valley portion, add territory in the Bronx, and divide East Harlem. In a tweet to a Spectator reporter, Mark-Viverito said the community demanded the “integrity” of East Harlem in her district.

“The latest maps don’t do that,” she said.

The new maps would put La Marqueta, a market that is a symbol of the neighborhood, back in the district—opponents had criticized its removal. But Mark-Viverito said that was not enough.

Other residents of the Upper West Side said that the new plans’ continuing to split the Manhattan Valley would separate communities.

The “Manhattan Valley has always been a springboard for disenfranchised groups hoping to make a better living in America,” Glory Ann Kerstein, president of the Duke Ellington Boulevard Neighborhood Association, said. “Now they’re going to crack us down the spine and pair us into districts who have no knowledge of who we are.

Kerstein said her organization, which has fought cocaine addiction and other social ills, was an example of a group that would suffer as a result of the new plan and that she is worried that it might not have the political connections to effect similar change in its new district.

Others said more public hearings should be held. While the public had a chance to submit testimony in October, the commission will not hold further public hearings specifically about the approved maps.

“More public input should be considered as final map was not presented at public hearings,” Rodriguez said in a tweet, adding that he was hoping to hold separate City Council hearings on the plan.

Despite the complaints, commissioners said the process of redistricting was largely focused on preserving close-knit communities throughout the city, many of which are defined along ethnic or cultural lines, and praised the redistricting effort as open and transparent.

“I am proud to have been a part of the open and public process this commission has implemented,” commissioner Madeline Provenanzo said in a statement.

Before the plan becomes official, it must, under federal law, receive approval from the Department of Justice because Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx all fall under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which mandates that any changes to voting procedure in “covered jurisdictions” do not harm the political influence of minority groups.

According to a memorandum submitted to the commission by Lisa Handley, director of Frontier International Electoral Consulting and an expert on redistricting and voting rights, the new plan would preserve the 19 city districts in which minority voters are currently able to elect the candidate of their choice, meaning the plan will likely face little opposition during the federal review process if it passes the council.

news@columbiaspectator.com

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