Common Cause/NY Statement on NYC Proposed Redistricting Maps
NEW YORK, NY (11/20/2012)(readMedia)-- On November 15th, the Districting Commission released its revised proposed map for the 2013 redistricting of the New York City Council. Although the maps for Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island represent a reasonable proposal based on Charter criteria and population statistics, the plan for Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx continues to be problematic.There are three aspects of the maps which raise substantial questions: the ratio of representation between the Bronx and Manhattan, Council District 8, and the removal of Randall's Island from Manhattan into Queens.
"The Districting Commission's proposed map for the New York City Council appears to be influenced by political forces outside of the Charter's objective criteria. This raises serious concerns about the Commission's independence and calls into question the validity of the process," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
The Bronx vs. Manhattan
In the current New York City Council map Manhattan has ten city council seats that are either entirely or majority in the borough (districts 1-10) while the Bronx has eight (districts 11-18). The reason is very simple: Manhattan has roughly 200,000 more people than the Bronx. As of the 2010 census, the relationship has not changed proportionally.
|2010 Total Pop.||Council District Average Pop.||Council Districts|
However, the Districting Commission has proposed to give the Bronx and Manhattan equal representation on the City Council with nine districts each by moving the majority of District 8's population into the Bronx. In order to do so, the Commission has systematically overpopulated the Manhattan districts in comparison to the Bronx districts. Districts 1,2,3,4,5,6, and 8 are all packed to the maximum legal limit, pushing the average deviation of Manhattan districts to +4.14%. In the Bronx, the average deviation is only +0.7%.
Council District 8
The absurd lengths to which the Commission has gone to give the Bronx equal control on the council is reflected in East Harlem's Council District 8. The other districts in Manhattan are packed just to the right extent to shift District 8 to a majority-Bronx population. The Bronx-Manhattan breakdown for District 8 is now 84,377 (Bronx) and 84,357 (Manhattan), giving the district a majority Bronx population by a mere margin of 20.
There is no question that District 8 must move farther north into the Bronx as a result of population declines registered in Washington Heights and the need to balance populations and follow the Voting Rights Act, but there is no reason it needs to move so far into the Bronx that it becomes a majority-Bronx district. At an October 4th public hearing, Common Cause New York presented testimony demonstrating how the Commission's September draft could be adjusted to have District 8 maintain its current boundaries in East Harlem and Randall's Island. Despite testimony from East Harlem community residents to maintain the current boundaries of East Harlem in District 8, the Commission only restored a few blocks along Park Avenue.
The New York City Charter is very clear that districts should not cross borough borders unless absolutely necessary. The Commission staff was specifically instructed to respect natural boundaries. Further, the City Charter provides: "district lines shall keep intact neighborhoods and communities with established ties of common interest and association, whether historical, racial, economic, ethnic, religious or other." Yet Randall's Island, part of Manhattan, has been shifted into the Astoria Queens-based District 22. There is no question that Randall's Island has a much closer association with the community of East Harlem than with Astoria, sharing a borough, community board, and current Council District 8. The Commission has provided no justification for this arrangement, which appears, on its face, to violate the Charter.
New York's City Council redistricting process is intended to adjust political representation in line with changes to the city's population as measured by the decennial Census. The City Charter (Chapter 2-A § 52) stipulates that districts must be redrawn according to a strict set of criteria to assure proportional and accurate representation:
- Districts may vary from the average population by a maximum of +/- 5%
- Districting plan must ensures the fair and effective representation of the racial and language minority groups in New York protected by the Voting Rights Act of 1965
- District lines must keep intact neighborhoods and communities with established ties of common interest and association
- Each district shall be compact and shall be no more than twice as long as it is wide.
- A district shall not cross borough or county boundaries.
- Districts shall not be drawn for the purpose of separating geographic concentrations of voters enrolled in the same political party into two or more districts