PA Williams Critical as Redistricting Commission Holds Queens Public Hearing

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Screenshot by Ariel Pacheco

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams was joined by a panel of experts today to discuss the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), which will be used for the first time in the state’s history to redraw lines for elected offices. 

The Commission held its first of several public hearings today which focused on Queens County. 

Williams began by criticizing Governor Cuomo for not doing a good enough job in helping the IRC prepare for the long process ahead. 

“Given the time-sensitive nature of the redistricting process, it’s really unacceptable that state funding was not dispersed to the Independent Redistricting Commission until very recently,” said Williams. 

“To be clear, the governor should have taken much more steps than he did to ensure the IRC was able to have the necessary time and the funds to hire staff and conduct public outreach. Because the Governor failed to do so, the IRC is now working on a very compressed timeline,” Williams continued.

Williams also said he is using his role in office to make the public aware of the upcoming hearings, so they can have a say in how the lines are drawn. 

“We are trying very hard to sound the alarm, we’re trying to be a place where people can come together to get information and also be a connector for folks,” said Williams. 

Today’s public hearing was the first opportunity for concerned citizens to give the Commission input before they begin to redraw lines. They will begin to redraw lines after the Census releases its date on August 16 and the initial district maps will be released to the public on September 15 for review. 

The Commission will then hold a series of hearings where residents are allowed to testify and comment on the redrawn lines. The final district maps will then be voted on and certified by the Commission and presented to the state legislature. 

“This is the first time that every day New Yorkers will be able to provide input on the lines. I think I speak for all the commissioners when I say we intend to make the most of it,” said IRC Chair David Imamura during the Queens hearing. 

The IRC listened to over 100 residents and advocates during the hearing. Participants were allowed up to three minutes of speaking time, with many showing their own maps and district line ideas. Written comments were also allowed as well. 

Many who spoke were advocating for lines that would allow the voices of their community to be more heard. There were a lot of mentions of Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, South Ozone, East Elmhurst, and Corona and how the lines split the South Asian and Indo Caribbean communities in these areas. They also spoke as to how the current lines divide Queens and make it harder for people to have their voice heard.

“These gerrymandered districts seek to quell the voices of our city,” said Paperboy Prince, a former candidate for mayor. 

Martha Ayon of New Reformers said, “In Queens, crossing the street leads to different electoral representation.” 

Danielle Brecker of Empire State Indivisible shared the sentiment. “The lines appear arbitrary and do not reflect neighborhood and community borders because they are likely in the palace for political reasons.” 

The redistricting process influences where the lines are drawn and can have implications when it comes to how communities are served. 

In the past, the redistricting process has been a very political process, as politicians have tried to get lines drawn in ways they felt would favor them in elections. The creation of IRC is intended to serve the best interests of the residents first. 

More information can be found here.