Advocates Look Toward Next Redistricting Frontier: City Council Lines

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CUNY Center for Urban Research
If you redistricting fanatics out there were lamenting the fact that the drama around the drawing of new Congressional lines in the state is starting to wind down, fear not! Every ten years, states across the country redraw district lines based on new U.S. Census population counts. In the wonderful land of Albany, that can lead to chaos and exhausting all-nighters. On Monday, federal judges imposed a court-drawn revision of the state's Congressional districts -- marking somewhat of a conclusion to the long drawn-out battle (but the excitement's never really over, is it?)

Here at the Voice, we've focused our attention to some of the immigrant advocacy groups that have been pushing for a fair redistricting process that draws lines that are accurate reflections of the city's changing demographics.

One of the groups that has been making recommendations from the get-go is not taking a break from redistricting advocacy and today began devoting its attention to the next frontier: City Council districts.

Now, we know this stuff can seem kind of dull, but remember, the way these lines are drawn determine how the city's districts are divided and how different communities are represented in local government. It's the heart of our democracy, folks!

So while most have been focused on Albany, the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy, or ACCORD -- a coalition of 13 advocacy groups -- held a news conference today to say that it's time for New Yorkers to draw their attention to this redistricting process at the most local level.

"Demographics have changed so rapidly," James Hong, a spokesperson for the coalition, told the Voice this morning by phone. "It's critical that the new district lines reflect the changing diversity and the changing landscape [of the city]."

The coalition is first focusing its efforts on the formation of an independent commission that is charged with redrawing lines for the city's 51 City Council districts based on Census data. This commission is made up of 15 members -- eight appointed by the City Council and seven from the mayor's office.

Hong told us that he believes this commission should be announced relatively soon, and a spokesperson from the City Council sent us an email this morning saying that "the 2012 Districting Commission will begin to be constituted in or around March 2012," adding that it would be no later than May 15th.

One of the coalition's major concerns is that the actual members of the commission are representative of different groups and interests throughout the city. "The perspectives of the commission need to reflect the diversity of the city. Since no one knows who is going to be on that commission...we just want to call attention to that," Hong said. (A City Council spokesperson said in an email, "These members will reflect the geographic, ideological, and ethnic diversity of the City.")

ACCORD, along with other advocacy groups, has devoted a lot of its energy to the rapidly-growing Asian population in Queens, which has skyrocketed 300 times faster than the rest of the borough's population over the last ten years. In this local redistricting process, Hong said he would like to see an increase in Asian-American majority Council districts in Queens.

After its formation, the commission will begin to review laws, regulations, and Census data, and then it will conduct public hearings and meetings before developing a final plan to submit to the City Council and ultimately to the U.S. Dept. of Justice before the 2013 elections, according to the City Council.

If you're interested in learning more about how the city's demographics have actually changed, check out this interactive map from City University of New York's Center for Urban Research, which illustrates the changes over the last decade.

[SamTLevin / @SamTLevin]

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