Bronxites Speak Out Against New District Lines
By Lennin Reyes
Bronx Journal Staff Writer
In late January, the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) released proposed redrawn district lines for the State Assembly and State Senate. Shortly after, LATFOR scheduled a series of meetings across New York state for the public to voice their opinions.
On January 31, Bronx residents had the opportunity to testify in front of a panel at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. The panel consisted of LATFOR members, including Senators Michael Nozzolio (R-Finger Lakes) and Martin Malave Dilan (D-North Brooklyn), and Assemblyman and LATFOR Chairman John McEneny (D-Albany).
Three concerns over the proposed districts came up at the hearing. The first involved the fracturing of the Morris Park section of the eastern Bronx. After being in the 80th District (represented by Naomi Rivera) for decades, Morris Park is now split between the 80th and the 82nd (represented by Michael Benedetto). Some were outraged by the split. “Morris Park is the center of Bronx Community Board 11,” said Joseph Thompson of the 49th Precinct Community Council. “This split would prevent projects from being done,” Silvio Mazzella of the Morris Park Community Association added. One stalled project is the creation of a Morris Park business improvement district (BID). “Westchester Square (in the nearby 82nd District) and ourselves began this process at the same time, around 2006,” Mazzella said. “While we’re still in the process, Westchester Square’s almost finished.”
Those in Van Nest (west of Morris Park) were just as outraged over district lines as their eastern neighbors. “We have always been associated with Morris Park,” said Bernadette Ferrara of the Van Nest Alliance. “Why are we split between several districts that don’t have any commonalities with us?”
Assemblyman John McEneny responded, “The 80th District was drawn to satisfy the federal Voting Rights Act. It is 53 percent Hispanic.” The speakers from Morris Park and Van Nest feel common interest and compactness should also be taken into account when drawing district lines, in addition to ethnicity.
Some politicians, like Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester), sat alongside his constituents to show his support. While those in Morris Park were joyful that they remained together in his 34th Senate District, Bedford Park and Norwood were outraged about being split between the 34th and 33rd (D-Gustavo Rivera). “This is splitting neighborhood amenities like Lehman College and Montefiore Hospital from the people who use them,” said Fernando Tirado of Bronx Community Board 7. One of those amenities is the Mosholu-Montefiore Community Center. “It seems like the Senate Republicans drew Jeff Klein’s 34th District to pick up the remaining white voters in Norwood and Bedford Park,” said one worker from the center who testified.
To add fuel to the fire, these two communities are also divided into three assembly districts, the 80th District (D-Naomi Rivera), the 78th District (D-Jose Rivera) and the 81st District (D-Jeffrey Dinowitz). Gregory Lobo Jost felt that these communities were split in order for incumbents to be able to cherry-pick voters in housing developments, such as Tracey and Scott Towers. “Within a 15-minute walk from home to work, I would now cross districts five times!” Amenities are also affected here in addition to the Senate. After years of being in the 78th District, Lehman College and the Bronx High School of Science move to the 81st District alongside Woodlawn and Riverdale.
The third concern was brought up at a previous LATFOR hearing in September. Members of several Dominican-American groups testified for the support of a Dominican Congressional district. Unlike the previous proposal, which resulted in a Manhattan-Bronx-Yonkers seat, the new one proposed a district that included parts of Washington Heights in Manhattan, Fordham and Morris Park in The Bronx, and Corona and Jackson Heights in Queens. “These are areas with strong concentrations of Dominicans,” said Maximo Padilla, chairman of CODEX — the Committee for Dominicans in the Exterior. “In the mid-1980s, only four Dominicans lived in my building. Now 90% of the building is Dominican.” In addition to this last-minute push, these speakers also spoke out against the shape of the 31st Senate District, currently held by Adriano Espaillat (D-Upper Manhattan). “We requested for the 31st District to go east into The Bronx to be 60% Hispanic. Why is it going south to 24th Street in Chelsea?” said Miguel Santana of the Dominican-American National Roundtable (DANR).
Independent redistricting groups also spoke out at the hearing. Common Cause New York drew a series of districts in order to prevent political gerrymandering. “After the 2010 election, politicians signed a pledge to support independent redistricting,” said Shawn Coffey of Common Cause New York. “Not only did they break the pledge, they added a 63rd Senate district upstate to expand the Republican majority.”
Common Cause invited LATFOR to adopt their proposed lines in the State Assembly, State Senate and Congress. However, McEneny and Senator Nozzolio said that LATFOR hasn’t received the lines yet. Common Cause echoed the sentiments of the other speakers in hopes that political districts are drawn with compactness and common interest in mind.