If a house divided against itself cannot stand, as a great president once said, how about a neighborhood?
Woodhaven residents are fed up with being a divided community. Looking on a standard map, you wouldn’t realize it, considering that they are encompassed entirely within the 11421 ZIP code. You also wouldn’t know the division passing through the neighborhood. There’s a Woodhaven library, business groups such as the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation and the Woodhaven Business Improvement District and civic groups such as the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA).
But in the eyes of Albany, there are several Woodhavens. While it has only one member in the Assembly (Mike Miller), the redistricting debacle in the State Senate last year left the neighborhood with three different state senators.
Residents in the easternmost section of Woodhaven are represented by James Sanders, who is based in the Rockaways. Others who live close to the Brooklyn/Queens border have as their state senator Michael Gianaris, whose base is located in Astoria. The remainder of the area is within the district represented by Joseph Addabbo, who is based in Howard Beach.
This was the result of gerrymandering, the practice by which communities are sliced and diced into sometimes tiny segments for the benefit of keeping one party in power, or driving out a member of another party. Much of Woodhaven was within Addabbo’s 15th Senate District before this year, but the powers that be in Albany decided to take segments of it away and place it in the hands of senators located elsewhere.
Of course, Woodhaven is not the only neighborhood divided among its elected officials. There are other communities—too many of them—which are sliced and diced every 10 years to benefit a handful of incumbents seeking to keep their jobs and keep their party in power.
Woodside, which comprises the 11377 ZIP code, is divided among four State Senate districts. Forest Hills, in the 11375 ZIP code, has three different State Senate districts.
When communities are divided in this manner, their voice in whatever legislature they are represented is diluted. It stands to reason that a politician with a gerrymandered district may not care as much about a sliver of one community if they represent the majority of another neighborhood.
For this very reason, good government groups have advocated for independent redistricting panels. However, even that system has been flawed, as evidenced by the City Districting Commission, which is holding its third set of hearings to draw a revised “final” map realigning the 51 City Council districts.
The original final map put out by the commission was withdrawn due to public criticism that some areas were reshaped to benefit certain politicians. Woodhaven civic leaders also objected, as the plan— which kept the community split between the 30th District (represented by Elizabeth Crowley) and the 32nd District (represented by Eric Ulrich)—basically swapped the district areas. Those represented by Crowley were put into Ulrich’s district, and vice versa.
If we are ever going to have a government that’s truly “of the people, by the people and for the people,” we have to start by recognizing the importance of neighborhoods and giving them the proper and singular voice they need to properly function.
Woodhaven residents are clamoring for one City Council to represent them, and they’ve campaigned for it strongly. Let them get their wish.