Tag Archives: Redistricting

Eastern Queens joining together to be less divided

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Eastern Queens is uniting in a fight to make district lines dividing the community disappear.

A group of civic associations, local leaders and concerned residents from Glen Oaks, Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Bellerose and Queens Village have joined forces to form Eastern Queens United, a coalition demanding their neighborhoods be rejoined in the same congressional and assembly districts.

“We need district lines that will unite us, not divide us,” said Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village. “Regardless of color, nationality, religion or cultural identity, we all care about our families, our schools, our jobs, our safety and our community. This is the glue of commonality that keeps us together.”

Eastern Queens United is urging the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) to undo what the group calls the “gerrymandering” of the neighborhoods between Assembly Districts 24,26 and 33 and unite the area into a single district. The coalition also wants the division of the community between Congressional Districts 5 and 6 to be resolved. The neighborhoods are currently united in a single state Senate and city council district.

“We are a single ‘community of interest’ that needs to stay united in all legislative districts,” said Ali Najmi, an attorney, lead organizer and counsel to Eastern Queens United. “LATFOR must not divide us.”

To gather supporters for their cause, Eastern Queens United is planning a community meeting and rally in the near future.

The group argues that the dividing lines are detrimental to the community, separating residents and preventing them from improving the standard of living in the neighborhoods.

“For those of us on the front lines fighting for quality-of-life issues, reduced property taxes and other issues that affect us every day, we know how important these district lines are,” said Angela Augugliaro, president of Queens Colony Civic Association. “We have a unique community that can only have its interest served if we are united within the same legislative districts.”

LATFOR will make recommendations to the New York State Legislature regarding district lines early next year, after which its proposal must be voted upon and approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The neighborhoods were separated roughly 10 years ago, and Friedrich says if the group is unable to foster change, the communities will remain divided for another decade. “We want to make sure they don’t do to us what they did 10 years ago,” he said. “These lines were drawn for political considerations only, and not for what is best for the community. District lines run right through some communities, which is confusing and detrimental to the neighborhood. We will not accept district lines that slice and dice us as if we are on some legislative committee’s chopping block.”

Politics Aside: Wheel of Redistricting Fortune

| RHornak@queenscourier.com

Every 10 years the federal government orders a new census to be taken, and based on the shifts in population, new lines are drawn for legislative districts all across the country for federal, state and local offices. It’s one of the most basic and most important aspects of politics, and perhaps the most misunderstood and certainly the most unnoticed. Few people ever realize the process has taken place.

It’s like the wheel of fortune. Politicians spin the wheel and what district you end up in may be a matter of random chance. But elected officials are also known to push for district lines that favor their reelection, regardless of how ridiculous their district may look. You could give a standard Rorschach test using many of the districts drawn in New York.

This has led many people to call for a more non-partisan redistricting process, where legislative lines are drawn by people without a political agenda, and instead of looking at the electorates political leanings, they judge the voting base on criteria like common community, ethnicity and other demographic measures to bunch people into homogenous districts with shared values.

But isn’t that just a political agenda by another name? And how are the people to be chosen who will eventually be charged with drawing those fairer lines? Is there truly a way to divorce this process from politics?

Ed Koch has made this a marquee issue for 2011, and has many legislators lined up with him calling for reform. Even Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for a new, non-partisan system, and has pledged to veto any lines drawn this year that are not done in a non-partisan manor.

Unfortunately, the only proposal so far is to have a group appointed by the top elected officials in the state, the exact same people we are supposedly trying to take this power away from. In other words, it would be a sham system, but one where the governor would now have players at the table, possibly tilting the balance away from evenly split to which ever party holds the statehouse at that time.

Proponents are also saying that now is the time, or we will have to wait ten years before this opportunity comes around again. However, patience is a virtue in matters like this, where we need to make sure we get it right the first go-round. Changing the system for change sake isn’t just careless, but in this case it could be reckless and could destroy the checks and balances that come from the two-party system we have now. To those who say the system can’t be any worse than what we currently have, I say think again.

Robert Hornak is a Queens-based political consultant, blogger, and an active member of the Queens Republican Party.