CALL TO KEEP IT TOGETHER
Asian-American Groups To Panel: Unite Our Areas
Queens’ Asian-American communities came out in full force at the Tuesday, Aug. 21 meeting of the City Districting Commission at the Flushing Library, asking the panel to keep their communities under one local lawmaker’s jurisdiction.
Many of the groups present at the meeting were members of the Asian- American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy (ACCORD), a group representing 14 Asian-American organizations across the city
ACCORD’s James Hong delivered a statement on behalf of the coalition, urged the commission “not to approach the task of redistricting as merely the one of equalizing populations among districts.”
According to Hong, Queens’ Asian-American population grew 30.6 percent between 2000 and 2010, and 500,000 Asian-Americans now live in the borough, representing half of the city’s total Asian-American population.
Hong drew the panel’s attention to two communities in particular.
Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park were described by Hong as “a single community of interest.” That term, used often during the hearing, refers to Part 52(c) of the City Charter, which states that the commission must draw district lines that “shall keep intact neighborhoods and communities with established ties of common interest and association, whether historical, racial, economic, ethnic, religious or other.”
“This area should be united within a single City Council district and thus given meaningful representation,” Hong stated.
Richard David, executive director of the Richmond Hill-based Indo- Caribbean Alliance, told the commission that Richmond Hill, Ozone Park and South Ozone Park should be considered a community of interest.
“We’re feeling a sense of frustration,” said David. “The system has been designed in a way to disenfranchise us.”
“[Council] Districts 32, 28 and 27 reflect that disenfranchisement,” he added, noting that while his group helped over 500 local businesses with Southeast Asian and Indo-Caribbean ownership relocate from South Ozone Park due to the opening of Resorts World New York at Aqueduct Racetrack, but “you’re not going to her about it because our elected officials currently do not represent the interests of the residents who are there.”
“I think what we’re really trying to understand here, as advocates and community members, is the sincerity of this commission toward the goal of uniting and empowering communities,” Ali Najmi, representing SEVA NY, told the panel, claiming that the previous process “led to a blunder” with four City Council districts dividing the Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park area.
“I think this commission’s legitimacy will rest on what they do with Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park,” he claimed.
Aneesah Shah, a student at Richmond Hill High School, claimed that the area had “some of the poorest local governance you see anywhere in New York City.”
Vishnu Mahadeo of the Rich- mond Hill Economic Development Council, noted that the current districting of the Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park area has had a negative impact.
“We have two of the worst high schools in Queens,” he claimed, referring to John Adams and Richmond Hill high schools, and the lack of a handicapped-accessible elevator in area train stations.
“This is because there is no political representation,” he claimed.
Hong, in his remarks, also urged the panel to create a district that includes both Bayside and Oakland Gardens, claiming that many Oakland Gardens residents refer to themselves as residents of Bayside.
Steven Choi, executive director of the Flushing-based MinKwon Center for Community Action, claimed that “many of our community voters are disenfranchised” under the current district lines.
Nineteen City Council members represent districts where Asian- Americans make up more than 15 percent of the population, Choi noted.
He claimed that Flushing and Bayside are communities of interest and should not be split.
However, members of several Flushing and Auburndale civic groups urged the commission to use zoning data to create new districts, specifically to keep one- and twofamily homes together in District 19 and to add portions of Flushing near Flushing cemetery currently in District 19 to District 20 and District 23.
City Council Member Dan Halloran expressed concern that the area is beginning to “Balkanize.”
“I would love to see a little more effort to promote unity across sections,” he noted.
Members of Korean Americans for Political Advancement, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Korean Community Services also spoke in favor of keeping communities of interest together.
Frank Toner, president of the Bellerose Manor-based Rocky Hill Civic Association, urged the panel to keep the Eastern Queens communities of Bellerose, Floral Park, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park, and Queens Village in a single City Council district.
The civic group is part of Eastern Queens United, a coalition of civic groups in northeastern Queens.
“It is in communities that our democracy begins, and they should be respected,” he stated.
Michael Mallen, representing the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, claimed that the Jackson Heights area has a relatively high LGBT population and should be considered a community of interest for districting purposes.
In particular, he pressed the panel to keep Council District 25 (represented by Daniel Dromm) whole.
Dominick Pistone and Murray Berger of the Kew Gardens Civic Association urged the panel to put Kew Gardens into a single community district.
Pointing to the 2000 redistricting— where the area was divided between three state senators—Pistone told the crowd that “you can be subdivided into impotence and invisibility.”
“This is a community of interest in spirit if nothing else,” he stated.
At the commission’s Friday, Aug. 23 meeting in the City Council’s chambers at City Hall, Commission Executive Director Carl Hum noted that ACCORD reps attended three of the five meetings across the city, and spoke specifically of their concerns with Flushing and Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park, as well as in Asian-American communities in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Hum also spoke of several outreach efforts planned, including an online resource that will allow residents to attempt to create their own district maps, as well as computers with mapping software to be installed in a resource room at the commission’s offices at 253 Broadway in Manhattan that will open to the public after Labor Day.
In addition, a Speaker’s Bureau will be created that will have the ability to visit civic groups citywide and make presentations on the redistricting process.
Chairperson Benito Romano noted in his opening remarks last Tuesday that the redistricting process will be a lengthy one, encompassing a second round of public hearings in all five boroughs in October, as well as meetings with the City Council. Romano noted that the final plan must be submitted to the city and the U.S. Department of Justice by Mar. 5, 2013.
The panel includes former City Council Member Thomas Ognibene, former State Sen. Frank Padavan, and President of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (and Forest Hills resident) Linda Lin.