Redistricting Hearing and Testimony
Last Wednesday, I testified at the Queens redistricting hearing.
I am inspired by my neighbors from every part of Queens who took time away from work, kids, other responsibilities; and traveled long distances; to testify. They came with the absolute belief in our democracy and willingness to fight to make it better — despite a blatant history of political and racist gerrymandering.
I am not inspired by the commission — they do not seem to realize that they work for us. They claim to be non partisan even though they couldn’t agree on one set of maps for political reasons. Reviewing the two sets of proposed maps it is hard for me to see how the maps are not influenced by political or special interests.
On Wednesday, I felt like the commission was combative to those who critiqued their maps. They questioned, sometimes argued, with people testifying and almost always suggested people make make their own maps. For those who came with maps they were told their maps didn’t work or to go back and map out the whole borough not just one area. It felt like the commission was saying they would only consider our feedback on their maps if we made our own.
I don’t think people should have to make maps to be heard. Not everyone has the time, ability, or technology to map make. And most of us don’t have the knowledge beyond our own community.
My testimony follows.
I am Danielle Brecker. I live in the Dutch Kills neighborhood in Long Island City, Queens — Congressional District 12, State Senate District 12, and Assembly District 37.
When I testified in July I said, “redistricting should be fair, not politically driven; have the goal of enabling as much representation for as many people as possible; keep neighborhoods and communities together; and lead to more voter enfranchisement.”
At the time, I believed that my testimony and the testimony of so many of my neighbors would be heard and incorporated into the maps.
Initially I thought having two sets of maps was a good way to stimulate discourse, make changes together, and get to consensus. But both sets of maps are highly problematic. It feels as if the testimony of so many New Yorkers was totally disregarded.
My overarching concerns are that both set of maps, do not fix existing gerrymandering — instead it is ignored or made worse; neighborhoods and communities of interest are split — in some cases more so than currently; districts cut cross multiple boroughs in no logical way; and certain incumbents are protected or hurt but seemingly not based on census data but on their politics.
Long Island City, where I live has some of the highest population growth in the borough, city, and state but these new neighborhoods are parceled off into other districts which will perhaps disenfranchise and diminish power. Redistricting should do the opposite.
In “Letters”, Congressional District 12 is still in three boroughs and while it is more compact, it splits many neighborhoods and communities of interest and does not use obvious separations such as the East River or Newtown Creek.
“Names” is slightly better because the Congressional District is only in two boroughs but it spans from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to East Elmhurst in Queens while severely splitting neighborhoods like Sunnyside.
In “Letters” State Senate District 12 includes three boroughs and splits many neighborhoods including the one in which I live. I will be in the same district as part of the East Village in Manhattan and part of Williamsburg in Brooklyn but if I walk two blocks in my neighborhood I will be in a different district.
“Names” splits Astoria and adds part, but not all, of Greenpoint in Brooklyn. In splitting Astoria, it splits Astoria Houses, a public housing community, from other nearby public housing communities which is splitting a community of interest.
When I testified in July, I spoke about my Assembly District, 37. and how if I walk two blocks from my apartment I’m in District 30, if I walk five more blocks in the same direction I’m in District 36 and that all of those blocks are part of my neighborhood.
In “Letters” this does not change and parts of Manhattan are now in my Assembly District.
“Names” keeps Long Island City together but adds a few blocks of Greenpoint and splits Sunnyside, Woodside, and Astoria. And like with the State Senate map, it splits Astoria Houses from nearby public housing communities.
Lastly, in most of the maps, my current elected leaders no longer live in the district they serve. This sets up potential primaries between incumbents — hard to see how that is not politically motivated.
The proposed maps are unsettling in a time of unsettling uncertainty. This process should serve to unify, enfranchise, and right past wrongs. If it does not, the people will fight for fair redistricting and I believe we will prevail.