Voices in Focus: A Plan to Merge Political Power in Upper Manhattan

Two articles from Manhattan Times offer updates on Northern Manhattan redistricting maps and the Word Up bookstore in Washington Heights. Plus, with the High Holidays around the corner, Brooklyn Ink has a piece on the return of Jewish residents to Bed-Stuy.

Newly proposed City Council redistricting maps wish to merge political power in Northern Manhattan. (Image via Manhattan Times)

* Manhattan Times reports that a coalition of Latino and Asian advocacy groups have proposed a new set of redistricting maps for the City Council, known as the “Unity Maps,” with the intent to consolidate political power in Northern Manhattan. The maps, which have been submitted to the New York City Council Districting Commission, would put Inwood and most of the eastern half of Washington Heights into District 10, with District 7 extending from the George Washington Bridge south to 113th St. The latter district would have a Hispanic majority of over 50 percent. Furthermore:

The proposed maps would have the effect of reducing most of Northern Manhattan’s City Council representation to one Councilmember.

District 10, currently represented by Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, would absorb all of Northern Manhattan. District 7, currently led by Councilmember Robert Jackson, would represent a smaller sliver of southern Washington Heights.

A coalition of Latino and Asian advocacy groups — the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, National Institute for Latino Policy and the Center for Law and Social Justice of Medgar Evers College — drew the Unity Maps.

Writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz spoke at Word Up on June 7, 2012. The bookstore in Washington Heights is looking for a new location. (Photo by Paul Lomax/DNAinfo)

Manhattan Times also has an update on Word Up, an independent bookstore in Washington Heights, which has been fighting to survive. In July, the volunteer-run store got a temporary reprieve but as of the end of August, it closed its location at Broadway and 175th St. According to founder Veronica Liu, they are negotiating with the landlord for a new place.

The popular Washington Heights bookstore opened over a year ago as a pop-up shop for a month. Enthusiasm for the all volunteer-run store grew and it stayed open for over a year.

But when Vantage Properties sold the building earlier this year, Word Up’s prospects dimmed.

The new landlord, Alma Realty, gave Word Up a 30-day notice in July. Since then, both parties have been in talks for a new space. Liu said there is a space that they like, but the Labor Day weekend delayed the talks.

“Once we reopen,” she said, “we’ll be relieved.”

To many, Word Up is more than just a bookstore. It’s a cultural space for dramatic events, book and poetry readings, a comedy club, an art gallery and a place to meet neighbors. It also represents a collective effort designed for and responding to the neighborhood.

Jewish residents buy kosher ice cream at Ice Cream House. (Photo by Stefan Doyno/TheBrooklynInk)

Brooklyn Ink has an article on the resurgence of Jewish residents in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The area saw a drastic decline in the population as a large number of West Indian and Caribbean immigrants arrived in the 1960s and 1970s. Many synagogues turned into African-American churches, but still bear Jewish symbols, says Ellen Leavitt, author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn.

Historian and writer Rabbi Yonah Landau recalls a childhood of fruit and vegetable stores and matzoh bakeries that went out of business when the Jewish community began leaving in the late 1950s.

Landau explained that many Jews fled to the suburbs due to the property crime and racial tension. Bedford-Stuyvesant was also undermined by unscrupulous real-estate agents who exploited the racial transformation of the area to provoke panic-selling by white homeowners. Their efforts undermined not only Jews but the middle-class black community that had been part of Bed-Stuy since the 1920s.

Bedford-Stuyvesant is starting to see the slow, but steady return of a Jewish presence — part of an overall increase in the Jewish population throughout Brooklyn — and many residents and outsiders agree that there are two reasons why.

One factor is the influx of Orthodox Jews in Bedford-Stuyvesant due to the overpopulation in the surrounding areas, such as Williamsburg, Clinton Hill, and Crown Heights. “Procreativity,” explained Rabbi Ahrele Loschak, 27, of Crown Heights, who leads a Torah study group in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

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