New NYC Council district maps create Asian-majority district, but draw fire from sitting members

New NYC Council district maps create Asian-majority district, but draw fire from sitting members

The commission charged with reshaping the New York City Council’s district lines released its first proposed set of maps on Friday, which creates a new Asian- and Pacific Islander-majority seat in southern Brooklyn.

But sitting members say the new lines disempower the area’s Latino community.

The New York City Districting Commission voted 10-2 to release the maps, advancing almost a yearlong process that begins after the latest release of the US Census figures. The commission slightly modified most of the lines, though there are some notable changes — including the neighborhoods of Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights and a portion of Sunset Park, which are now included in a proposed 43rd Council District.

While explaining his vote to approve the release of the draft maps to the public, commission member Michael Schnall took issue with splitting south Brooklyn up into multiple districts, saying it “fixes a problem that doesn’t exist.” He warned that Council Districts 30, 43 and 47 will be turned upside down by the draft plan.

The changes drew concerns from the sitting Council members most directly affected — Alexa Avilés of the 38th Council District and Justin Brannan of the existing 43rd Council District — who spoke out against the preliminary map.

“For 30 years, a City Council seat has existed to empower Latinos to elect a candidate of their choice, in a district that included the totality of Sunset Park and Red Hook,” Avilés and Brannan said in a joint statement. The preliminary draft, they said, combines portions of the two districts, which would mean “pitting one community of interest against another and wiping out hard-fought gains that have existed for a generation.”

“We look forward to seeing future proposals, because this ain’t it,” they wrote.

The proposed maps also drew recriminations from the New York Immigration Coalition, whose executive director said the commission “failed” in keeping immigrant communities intact.

“By splitting several immigrant communities and not maintaining all of the City Council’s minor minority districts, the NYC [Districting] Commission did not meet its mandate of keeping communities of interest together,” said Murah Awawdeh, the executive director. “The proposed district lines split up communities of color in Woodside, Ridgewood, Kensington, Richmond Hill, and the historically connected Latino communities in Red Hook and Sunset Park, making it harder for immigrant New Yorkers in these areas to elect the leaders that will represent their interests in the City Council.”

Schnall also took issue with splitting the 26th Council District into Queens and Manhattan, saying that it is best to keep the districts under one borough to the best extent possible.

Dennis Walcott, the commission’s chair, said the body’s goal was to combine communities that may have been separated in the past and limit districts that would cross different boroughs, while also taking a look at voting rights implications for certain ethnic groups.

New York City’s population grew from 8.2 million people in 2010 to 8.8 million in 2020. Brooklyn was the most populous borough with 31% of New York City’s population. There has been a significant increase in the Asian American Pacific Islander population, which now makes up 14.3% of New York City, according to the Census — up from roughly 13 percent a decade ago.

Asian communities had been looking to consolidate their electoral power through the redistricting process, leveraging that increase in population. Elizabeth OuYang, coordinator APA VOICE Redistricting Task Force — the largest Asian American task force on City Council redistricting — applauded the newly created district released Friday.

“The commission’s creation of a majority Asian American City Council district in Brooklyn is a recognition of the 43% increase in the Asian American community of interest in Brooklyn and corrects the egregious cracking of our community in 4 districts,” OuYang wrote in a statement. “The proposed commission map complies with the federal voting rights act and local laws.”

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said the 51-member body is “reviewing the preliminary maps of Council Districts released today by the NYC Districting Commission.”

“It is critical for the public to provide input on these first drafts as part of the ongoing redistricting process,” Speaker Adams wrote in a statement. “We strongly encourage all New Yorkers to participate, and we will continue working to ensure communities’ interests are prioritized and protected.”

Walcott said the commission did not pay attention to any individual elected official while creating the proposed draft map. There will be ample opportunity for the community to bring that input to the commission, he said.

The NYC Districting Commission is a 15-member panel appointed by Mayor Eric Adams and City Council majority and minority caucuses. It must draw new lines with roughly 173,000 residents per district.

There will be a second round of public hearings in August before the commission votes on the final plan. More than 500 New Yorkers tested in the first round of public hearings, Walcott said.

The draft map is also sent to the Council, which can either issue an advisory approval or rejection of the commission’s redistricting plan. If they reject the plans, then it would trigger another round of public hearings. Regardless of the Council’s position, though, the Commission has the final say in the maps, which must be finalized by February.

View the proposed lines with this interactive map created by Redistricting & You: New York City, a project of The Center for Urban Research (CUR) at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).

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