Controversial City Council redistricting enters next phase of public hearings

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Proposed Ctiy Council maps for all 51 council districts drawn by NYC Districting Commission.
Image courtesy of NYC Districting Commission

The New York City Districting Commission tasked with redrawing the 51 City Council districts is holding public hearings across the five boroughs on its draft maps next week, giving voters a chance to weigh-in on how the lines are shaped for the next decade.

The commission, which is made up of members appointed by Mayor Eric Adams, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli, released the draft maps last month. Along with Congressional and state legislative lines, City Council districts are redrawn following the U.S. census every 10 years.

The proposed maps were drawn with input from nearly 500 city residents who participated in an earlier series of public hearings and following federal, state and city requirements, according to commission chair Dennis Walcott. Among those criteria are adjusting for population changes – the city’s population rose from roughly 8.2 million to 8.8 million people over the past decade, not diluting the votes of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and keeping neighborhoods and communities intact.

The draft lines will now go through another round of public hearings over the next week and will then be submitted to the City Council on Sept. 24, allowing the council to weigh-in even though the commission has final approval of the maps.

“The next phase is really again, taking a look at the preliminary maps that have been put out there, get feedback from the community and having hearings in all five boroughs with a public input as well as again getting feedback from the various advocacy groups and individuals,” Walcott told PoliticsNY in an interview last month. “We want that feedback to help guide us and that would be the next step that we’re taking. And we’re looking forward to that process.”

Although they’re just a first draft, the proposed maps have hardly been without controversy. Most notably, the creation of a new majority-Asian district in southern Brooklyn – home to Brooklyn’s Chinatown in Sunset Park – could potentially pit City Council Members Justin Brannon and Alexa Aviles against each other in next year’s election.

The pair of lawmakers were quick to blast the new proposed lines shortly after they were unveiled, saying the plan would break up Aviles’ district, which connected the neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Red Hook when it was drawn to “empower” Latino voters, they said at the time. The alteration pits one community of interest – Asian Americans and Latinos – against each other, they added.

“By combining our current Districts 38 and 43, you are dividing our districts and further diluting the power we have to advocate for community-specific shared needs and goals,” the council members said at the time. “Pitting one community of interest against another and wiping out hard-fought gains that have existed for a generation is not the path forward. We look forward to seeing future proposals, because this ain’t it.”

In a statement released last week, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said the commission “appeared to violate” its mandate to redraw the districts according to rules set forth by the Voting Rights Act and City Charter. In particular, Speaker Adams said, the commission’s decision to keep three districts entirely in Staten Island despite it being inconsistent with population changes led to many of the “irrational changes to districts in other boroughs.”

“This seems to be a driving factor in the Commission’s preliminary district boundaries undermining protections for historically marginalized communities of color and for communities of interest, as mandated by the Voting Rights Act and New York City Charter,” the speaker said.

But Walcott told PoliticsNY the commission’s intent was never to pit communities of interest or certain council members against each other. And that this sort of feedback is a welcome part of the process as the commission moves into the next round of hearings.

“That was not the intent at all,” he said. “We took a look at the numbers. We took a look at the populations and it was not to have one compete against another or to undermine another. And so again, that’s something as we move forward to hear what people have to say about that. And also I know the staff will be meeting with the various Council delegations in this round similar to what they did in the last round, and, you know, factor those things in but again, there’ll be a lot of people who have both positive things to say and things they want us to improve on.”

New York City Districting Commission Hearing Schedule:

Tuesday Aug. 16, 2022 from 5:30pm to 9 p.m. Museum of the Moving Image, Sumner Redstone Theater, 36-01 35 Ave Astoria, Queens 11106

Wednesday Aug. 17, 2022 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Lehman College (CUNY), Gillet Auditorium, 250 Bedford Park Blvd West, The Bronx 10468

Thursday Aug. 18, 2022 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Staten Island Borough Hall, 10 Richmond Terrace Rm 125

Sunday Aug. 21, 2022 from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Medgar Evers College (CUNY), School of Science Health & Technology, Dining Hall, 1638 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn 11225

Monday Aug. 22, 2022 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Blvd., Harlem, Manhattan, 10037