Congressman Charles Rangel needs to accept that redistricting will expand his district outside of Manhattan, New York State Assembly member Herman “Denny” Farrell told attendees at a town hall Saturday morning.
The town hall, which was hosted by Farrell and New York City Council member Robert Jackson, was held at the Church of the Intercession on 155th Street. Farrell spent most of the two-hour event discussing a controversial plan to alter Rangel’s district dramatically, perhaps extending it as far north as Westchester.
Every 10 years, congressional district borders are redrawn by state legislatures, based on data from the most recent national census. Farrell said that whenever redistricting comes around, he gets calls asking him to talk to Rangel and prioritize the reapportioning of his district.
“Until we draw Charlie Rangel’s district, we’re not going to draw anything else in the state. Every 10 years. He’s the dean, the number one, longest serving—he’s entitled to that respect,” Farrell said.
Rangel’s historically significant 15th Congressional District, which encompasses Harlem, Morningside Heights, and parts of Queens, has been represented by African-Americans since 1944.
But according to 2010 census data, the district’s population went down during the last decade, as did its African-American population—voting-age citizens are now 27 percent white, 33 percent black, and 35 percent Hispanic, making the redrawing of the district’s borders a contentious issue. Legislators are trying to redraw the district to include more people, particularly more African-Americans.
“Charlie’s finally accepted that if you want that seat to remain an African-American seat and you don’t want a war between the African-Americans and the Dominicans, we have to take the district out of Manhattan, from Harlem right out here to 155th Street, from Westchester to Central Harlem,” Farrell said. “And Charlie is choking.”
Rangel is known to be extremely averse to moving any parts of his district out of Manhattan, and his constituents—some of whom were in attendance at the town hall on Saturday—might be concerned that if his district is expanded northward, his attention will be diverted away from their needs.
“The only way he can guarantee that his legacy be the things he’s done, and not the stupidities they wrote about him, is to be re-elected one more time by his people,” Farrell said, alluding to ethics charges that led to Rangel’s censure by the House of Representatives in December 2010. “It says that he is the man, and he is the one we want.”
Farrell’s impassioned pitch for the redistricting plans drew a cheer from the crowd, and the town hall meeting then moved on to more community-centric concerns as Jackson took the floor.
A discussion about class sizes—the Department of Education has been unable to get kindergarten class sizes down from 26 to the recommended 20, despite $24 billion being spent on New York City schools this year—prompted many responses from the audience about the rising crime rates among youth in Harlem and Washington Heights.
Several locals, including Joyce Adewumi, who leads the New York African Chorus Ensemble, also discussed funding for local art centers.
“We need an arts facility for Community Board 9,” Adewumi said. “We have artists—some have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—who are so underutilized. If we have an art center here, we can get our children off the street.”
She was echoed by CB9 member Vicky Gholson.
“The kids in my neighborhood have not received what they needed to offset the pain the families had to absorb from the drugs being brought down from Washington Heights,” Gholson said. “I don’t want to be patient any longer. We’ve got to find mathematical formulas to bring the money into this district, because we have more kids coming.”
“I’m trying to do as much with 10 times less,” Gholson added. “But I know that I received a multimillion-dollar education from the Harlem community, and I should be in the position to afford that back to the babies coming behind me. I’m asking that we try to sit down and find out those formulas.”