Testimony to the Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment on Redistricting
Good Afternoon Chairman McEneny and Chairman Nozzolio. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I am Assembly Member David Weprin, representing the 24th Assembly District in Northeast Queens, which encompasses parts of Auburndale, Bayside, Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Fresh Meadows, Hollis Hills, Holliswood, Jamaica Estates, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, and Queens Village.
An integral and essential factor in ensuring that any redistricting plan is fair and empowers local communities is the need for communities of interest to be kept together. Communities of interests are generally defined as groups of stakeholders that share common needs and concerns in their respective communities. It is imperative that any maps drawn reflect the shared values, concerns and interests of the constituents that reside in that specific district. In keeping these groups together we ensure that their political power is not diluted and that they enjoy the benefits of mutual civic participation.
I am here today advocating for a map that truly represents the unique character of Northeast Queens. Northeast Queens is a special and distinct geographic area, whose residents have voiced their desire to be kept together in a compact and contiguous district, rather than be divided. Currently my Assembly district, district 24, is compact and rectangular in shape. It covers neighborhoods including Jamaica Estates, Auburndale, Holliswood, Bellerose, Douglaston, Little Neck, Glen Oaks, Floral Park and Bayside. It also covers three community boards, 8, 11 and 13. Much of Glen Oaks and Floral Park for example share the same zip code and the western section of Glen Oaks shares the same zip code as Bellerose.
The proposed district map is much less compact then my current one. It would begin in Richmond Hill, encompassing only part of the area, and then follow the Grand Central Parkway east through Jamaica Hills, Jamaica Estates, Holliswood and Hollis Hills/Windsor Park before ending in Bellerose/Floral Park/ Glen Oaks. The map would thus divide Richmond Hill, cracking the South Asian community. From just looking at the map you can see the different shape – it would be long and thin and barely meets the criteria for being contiguous, as compared to my current district, which is more rectangular in shape and compact. The proposed map for Assembly district 24 would pull in more community boards across my new district and dilute the ability of community boards to ensure their voices are heard. As we all know, community boards are important tools by which communities exert political power and ensure their voices are heard within local government. The new map would thus break up dozens of communities of interest that share a history of collaborative advocacy and civic engagement. Instead legislative districts would now include numerous community boards, police precincts, and school districts, splitting these groups among numerous legislators.
The eastern Queens portion of my district is already somewhat divided, splitting communities into several assembly districts. Currently, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park, Bellerose, Floral Park and Queens Village are represented by three different Assembly representatives: Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) and Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and myself. Glen Oaks Village, located within Glen Oaks, one of the largest cooperative housing developments in New York State with a population of about 3,000 families, is also divided. The groups represent over 75,000 Queens' residents who, while diverse in their make-up, have a long history of shared political advocacy and civic participation. Many representatives of civic associations across Eastern Queens affected and divided by the proposed new district lines will be testifying today.
Within the aforementioned area of eastern Queens another community of interest emerges: that of the South Asian community. Today you will also hear from groups who have identified various clusters of South Asian communities within New York City. According to the 2010 Census there are almost 351,000 South Asian Americans living in New York City. Of that population almost 60% live in Queens County. One of the emerging clusters of South Asian Americans identified is found within the communities of Bellerose, Queens Village, Floral Park and Glen Oaks and within my current Assembly district. The proposed district lines split this emerging cluster of South Asian American voters almost right down the middle.
I have always been a vociferous advocate of an independent redistricting commission. I continue to voice my support for the creation of such a commission, in order to ensure that communities of interest are kept together and that the lines are drawn in a non politicized way. Many have come here today, and have previously testified at the various hearings across New York State, to voice their concern at the way in which the maps were drawn. Senate lines within Queens have been blatantly gerrymandered for political purposes. One key example is the way in which Woodhaven, a one-square-mile neighborhood, has been split among three different state senators. Another is the way Flushing has been carved up, diluting the voice of the Asian population within its boundaries. The end goal of this process must be to ensure that the proposed maps reflect lines that represent a fair and independent process and keep communities of interest together.
I understand the difficulty of drawing new maps that represent the various population changes and demographic shifts that have occurred in the last ten years, but it is imperative that we continue to address these challenges by listening to the communities that have come to testify before you today. The proposed draft map for my Assembly district is a gerrymandered map which fails to live up to the criteria set forth by this committee. It does not keep communities of interest together and divides the Eastern part of my district. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in government and in communities across Queens and New York City to create maps that are better representative of the communities of interest identified across the borough.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.