Queens residents vocal over redistricting

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Residents spoke out at at public hearing on how Queens councils districts should change ahead of next year's elections.THE COURIER/photo by Billy Rennison
Residents spoke out at at public hearing on how Queens councils districts should change ahead of next year's elections.

Communities split by redistricting a decade ago are calling for unification as another round kicked off in Queens.

Every 10 years, to account for fluctuations in the census, the city holds redistricting hearings to adjust council lines. The redistricting commission came to Queens for a public hearing at Flushing Library, allowing residents to express how lines should be adjusted.

“Redistricting is a critical civic engagement issue,” said Steven Choi, executive director, MinKwon Center for Action. “In previous years, districts have not followed natural community boundaries. They were only drawn to help incumbents and have diluted the votes of minorities.”

The city charter calls for communities of interest to be kept together while fairly representing minority groups — something many who spoke said has not happened. Districts will be around 160,000 people, with all being within 10 percent of the average.

Nearly all who spoke focused on Flushing, Bayside and the Ozone Park/South Ozone Park/Richmond Hill area.

The Richmond Hill area — largely Indo-Caribbean and South Asian — has been split into four council districts, preventing residents from receiving proper representation, many in the area said.

“It’s been apparent that the system has been designed to disenfranchise us,” said Richard David, executive director of Indo-Caribbean Alliance. “Our elected officials do not represent the interests of the residents currently there.”

Those in the area believe Ozone Park, South Ozone Park and Richmond Hill define a community of interest and should be represented as such.

Members of Asian-American advocacy groups also urged the commission to keep the growing population of Flushing together.

“Residents of Flushing share many common interests, such as need for language assistance, immigration issues and reliance on public transportation,” said Glenn Magpantay, a director at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Other areas touched on by the more than 100 residents who attended the hearing were placing the more sparsely populated areas of District 20 into District 19, putting Oakland Gardens into the same district as Bayside, reuniting Kew Gardens into one district and redrawing District 28’s lines using natural boundaries.

The process is still in its infancy. The 15-member bipartisan commission chosen by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Minority Leader James Oddo will release a preliminary draft on September 5, followed by another round of public hearings and a revised plan.

New districts will not be finalized until spring of next year.