2012-02-10 / Columnists

East End Matters...

New Senate Districts Make No Sense; New Assembly Good, Could Be Better
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Every 10 years, as a result of the census, federal and state district lines are redrawn to better represent the changes in the populations within those areas. This year, despite being warned by Governor Cuomo that he would veto any realignments that are politically motivated, the Republican Senate found it necessary to make changes that make no sense.

Currently the Rockaways are represented by one person – State Senator Malcolm Smith. With the wisdom of the Republicans, constituents who now called Smith their senator will be calling either Senator Shirley Huntley (on the east end) or Senator Joe Addabbo, Jr. (on the west end) their representative.

The changes came as surprises, not only to the public at large, but also to the elected representatives who are affected by them.

“I frankly thought our lines would stay the same,” Huntley told the TimesLedger. “I have no idea why anybody would do this. They could have left me how I was. It really doesn’t benefit them to do it.”

Addabbo also doesn’t see the wisdom of the changes.

“I don’t mind representing the Rockaways again – I find it intriguing – but I’ve held the position that communities should not be divided,” said Addabbo. “I don’t think Rockaway should have two state senators.”

Huntley, who has no ties to Rockaway, would have the areas of Arverne and Far Rockaway. Addabbo, who previously served as councilman for the west end, at least has experience here. But, this turn of events is troubling in that it further divides Rockaway, especially when the Democratic Assembly finally did the right thing in their redistricting plan by bringing most of the peninsula together. Except for Assemblywoman Michele Titus keeping a few blocks on the east end, Rockaway will be represented by one assemblyperson, Phillip Goldfeder. Yet, the Assembly could have gone even further. A better idea would be to give those few blocks that remain under Titus’ control to Goldfeder and completely unite the peninsula in the Assembly.

The State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reappointment is completely ignoring the voice of the people who voted for Smith and one Rockaway. While the investigations involving both Smith and Huntley are well documented, it can’t be argued that Smith has not been good for Rockaway. In 2007 he, along with then-Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, pushed through an allocation of more than $100 million to help renovate the ‘A’ line in Rockaway. That renovation is scheduled to be completed this summer. Smith knows the area. From blackouts in Ocean Village, to his mobile van, which has been seen all over Rockaway offering medical and insurance help to residents, to Operation S.N.U.G. – an initiative that fights gangs and violence – to his annual family day, he knows his district. Huntley would be learning on the job.

Smith is under investigation for his role in a charity that he reportedly help found with Congressman Gregory Meeks to help Hurricane Katrina victims. According to reports, donations were taken in, but the Queens charity failed to document most of its spending. Yet, after an investigation by the state attorney general into a non-profit created by Huntley, four people associated with the non-profit have been charged with grand larceny. Eric Schneiderman, the state AG, found they allegedly stole funds from the non-profit. Huntley has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Bringing the Assembly together and keeping the state Senate as one is a step in the right direction to end the battles between the east and west ends of Rockaway in the houses of the legislature. Rockaway will still be a split town in the City Council and the US House of Representatives. Still, residents will begin to see the benefits of working as one instead of east v. west.

Cuomo must OK the changes made by the Assembly. The benefits to Rockaway would be immense. The Senate realignments must be vetoed. Rockaway is not the only area that finds fault with its new Senate district lines. But Rockaway is what we are concerned about. These proposed changes cannot stand as they are. Smith should be returned to his position as State Senator for the peninsula. One voice in each legislative body equals more constituent voices speaking in concert on issues that affect all of Rockaway. That is much more powerful than two different representatives and split constituencies vying for the same piece of pie in Albany.

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