Battle to re-draw districts

The political battle to re-draw electoral districts for the State Assembly and State Senate began yesterday, when, for the first time in history, a coalition of Latino, Asian and African-American organizations presented a joint project called the “Unity Map.”

The goal is to increase the number of assembly districts where Latinos are represented to five, and for Asians to four. For the Senate, the advocacy groups want to create two more districts for Latinos, and one for Asians. African-Americans, whose population in districts like Harlem has fallen, are striving to maintain the ones that represent them.

The map was designed according to population data from the 2010 Census and based on voters in each district, where a certain ethnic group must comprise 50% or more of the residents.

“These demographic changes are essential for building political leverage, resulting in new district lines. It is the first step, although it doesn’t mean that the candidates from these districts will be Hispanic or end up elected,” said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, where the press briefing was held. “If we can achieve a level of unity among ourselves, then perhaps we will have our demands met,” added Cartagena.

Esmeralda Simmons, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, explained that the map was developed according to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act,  with the aim of sustaining historic communities while preserving neighborhoods at the same time.

On Oct. 4, the Unity Map was presented to the state legislature, which will decide whether or not to accept the map as it is, or to come up with a compromise before determining district borders for the 2012 state elections, said Lucia Gómez-Jiménez, executive director of the organization, La Fuente.

“We are going to monitor what they do,” she said, referring to past experiences of the redistricting process.

Whatever the legislature’s decision, it will have to be approved by lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo. Moreover, the Voting Rights Act requires that the Department of Justice approve districts in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan

The State Assembly      

Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group nationwide, making up 27.5% of New York City’s population, or more than 2.2 million people.

Currently, there are two districts where the majority of residents are Hispanic, and the Unity Map aspires to create three new ones. Two would be in Manhattan: one would encompass East Harlem and Upper Manhattan; the other would contain Washington Heights. The third new district would be in Queens, comprising Jackson Heights and Corona.

Asians are the fastest-growing ethnic group in New York City, increasing six times more rapidly than other populations. Asians are currently represented in one district, and the Unity Map would create four new ones in Flushing, Flushing/Bayside, Elmhurst/Woodside, and Sunset Park/Bensonhurst.

State Senate districts

The State Senate districts with majority Latino populations would rise from five to seven. A new district would form in Brooklyn and cover Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint. In the Bronx, the other new district would contain the South Bronx and Hunts Points.

At the moment, Asians are not represented by a single State Senate district. The Unity Map proposes Flushing/Bayside and sharing Sunset Park/Bensonhurst with Latinos, given that both groups together make up 60% of the residents.

Click here to look at the Unity Map on the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund website.

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