2002-02-23 / Front Page

Redistricting Plan Increases Minority Isolation

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

A redistricting plan that would further split Rockaway assembly lines along racial lines has been proposed for the 2002 election.

For the past ten years, since the last redistricting in 1991, Rockaway has been split into two distinct Assembly District, although the entire peninsula is represented by one Senatorial District. That district is represented by Senator Malcolm Smith.

The new plan would tinker very little with that 1991 plan, but the small change would place more of non-minority Bayswater into the 23rd’District, represented by Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, while moving more minority residents in central Far Rockaway into the 31st District, formally represented by Assemblywoman Pauline Rhodd Cummings, who recently passed away. That seat is vacant and will remain so until a decision on when and if to hold a special election is made by Governor George Pataki.

In 1991, the 23rd Assembly District was almost 60 percent White, 11 percent Black and 18 percent Hispanic. The 2001 plan would draw lines that would reduce the district by 18,000 residents, while the White percentage would climb to 75 percent, the Black percentage would drop to 7.3 percent and the Hispanic percentage would drop to 12.5 percent.

At the same time, in 1991, the 31st Assembly District was 13 percent White, 58 percent Black and 19 percent Hispanic. Under the recent plan, the district would become seven percent White, 62 percent Black and remain 18 percent Hispanic.

"There is no doubt that one district will pick up more White voters while the other will pick up more Black voters," one local Democratic politician, who did not want to be identified, said. "A quick look at the map would tell any politician who has been around for awhile that the minority district has become more minority while the White district has become more White."

"That is just what the Federal government wants," he adds. "They want to guarantee a win for a minority candidate and they believe that the only way they can do that is by packing the district with minorities."

Audrey Pheffer, who lost many of the minority residents in her district, picked up a small portion of non-minority Bayswater, her home area. She says that the changes in her district were mandated by the two new "minority" districts – one Hispanic and one Asian – that were created in the "middle of Queens."

"By creating two new districts in the middle of Queens, everything was pushed down and I lost those 18,000 people from the northern part of my district," Pheffer told The Wave. "I am sorry to lose those areas that I have worked so closely with for the past ten years, but I am glad to get back part of Bayswater, because that is my home."

"Personally," she adds, I would have loved to have taken all of Bayswater back."

Jonathon Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14 agrees that, while two representatives for Rockaway is not a problem from his perspective, it "gets confusing" for residents who "live right across the street from each other, but have different assembly persons representing them."

As to the increase in racial isolation, Gaska says, "That’s what the feds wanted. If you are a minority, there is a better than average chance that you are going to be represented by a minority."

He does not, however, agree with the government’s theory that only minorities will vote for a minority candidate.

"The people in Breezy Point loved Floyd Flake when he was our Representative," he says. "They voted for him in every election and the minority community in Arverne loved Walter Ward and voted for him."

The redistricting is mandated by the Constitution based on the census, which is taken every ten years. That mandate is designed to take into account the population shifts that have taken place over the previous ten years.

The redistricting is done by the state legislature and experts say that the prime directive when redistricting is for the political party in power to keep that power.

The final plan has to be approved by the legislature and by the governor.

In addition, the plan for Brooklyn and the Bronx has to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

There will be one local hearing on the plan. Residents who want to comment on the plan must do so at those hearings. That hearing will take place at Queens Borough Hall (120-55 Queens Boulevard, Kew Gardens) on Friday June 1 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

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