The city’s redistricting commission released newly drafted City Council district maps Wednesday, beginning a process that could shift the landscape of upper Manhattan politics.
The proposed maps could significantly reshape the City Council districts north of 96th Street. If the new lines are approved next year, Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus would be split into two districts, an East Harlem council member would lose her portion of the Upper West Side, and, some local officials say, minority representation could be hurt in Upper Manhattan.
The draft maps are only the beginning of a long process. The commission will accept public comments and hold hearings in early October, before submitting edited maps to the City Council in November. Revised maps will be released in January, and final maps will be sent to the council for approval in March.
“There are many more views that need to be shared with the Commission given the significance of redrawing these lines for the next 10 years,” redistricting commission chairman Benito Romano said in a statement. “We encourage the public to participate and look forward to hearing from more of the public in the second round of hearings.”
In Morningside Heights, Amsterdam Avenue is the dividing line in the draft maps. Everything west of Amsterdam would be in Robert Jackson’s district, District 7, and everything east of the avenue—including East Campus—would be in Inez Dickens’ district, District 9.
Jackson’s and Dickens’ districts, which are based in Washington Heights and Harlem, respectively, would now extend down into the Upper West Side, as far as 96th Street.
Upper Manhattan officials attacked the plan. Jackson said in a statement that the changes would “alter the current 7th councilman’s district’s identity and as a result, undermine whatever leverage it has gained over time as a strong Northern Manhattan district.”
“While I understand that neighboring districts have indeed changed and need to pick up residents to allow opportunity for continued ethnic minority representation in the City Council, I’m not so certain that these proposed lines properly addressed the goal of keeping groups of common interest together,” he said.
The change could shake up the 2013 race for Jackson’s open City Council seat. He cannot run again because of term limits.
“It’s all up in the air with redistricting,” said Mark Levine, Democratic district leader and candidate for Jackson’s seat. “No neighborhood in the city was sliced and diced worse than uptown Manhattan—disgracefully so. They’re cutting apart communities with deep ties, with a deep history of being represented together. There’s no way to justify how District 7 looks.”
Under the proposed boundaries, the district would have a majority of Hispanic residents for the first time. But Levine said that the plan dilutes minority representation because the majority is so slight, and noted that it would also reduce the Hispanic population in Ydanis Rodriguez’s 10th district—from 81.4 percent to 66.2 percent.
“It’s probably a violation of the Voting Rights Act,” Levine said on Thursday. “It sounds like a great thing” to have another majority Hispanic district, he added, “but residency doesn’t look at voting age, citizenship, voter registration numbers. We’re losing a strong Latino majority in the 10th, and not gaining a powerful majority in the 7th.” While District 7 would be 50.3 percent Hispanic residents, it would be only 47.5 percent voting-age Hispanic.
Levine said he planned to testify against the draft maps and predicted an “outpouring of criticism for the plan” from Washington Heights residents. Last week, a coalition of Latino, black, and Asian organizations released their own draft map, known as the Unity Map, that proposed more drastic changes and preserved a larger Hispanic majority in district 10—and map’s authors plan to continue to advocate as the process goes forward.
The biggest changes would come in District 8, represented by Melissa Mark-Viverito. The district is currently based in East Harlem, but it also includes small pieces of the Upper West Side, between 96th and 110th streets, and the South Bronx.
But the draft maps remove the Upper West Side from the district, shifting its boundaries so that more of its territory is in the Bronx than in East Harlem. Mark-Viverito has advocated for keeping her district unchanged.
“My office has made efforts to be visible and accessible in the Manhattan Valley/Upper West Side area,” she told the redistricting commission on Aug. 23, according to commission records. Mark-Viverito stressed the similarities between the different neighborhoods in her current district, citing the presence of public housing in many of them.
The last time the lines were redrawn, Mark-Viverito’s predecessor, council member Phil Reed, advocated for keeping his residence on the Upper West Side within his district. Mark-Viverito, though, lives in East Harlem, and her main office is on Lexington Avenue.
Many local activists urged the commission to remove the Upper West Side from District 8 during testimony before the draft maps were released. “If you have limited resources or mobility, it’s hard to get over to that community office” from the Upper West Side, Democratic State Committeeman Daniel Marks Cohen said. “Melissa does a very good job representing people in the Manhattan Valley, but … it’s a real burden on people in the district.”
“We should have council members serving districts where they can travel easily and constituents can get to them easily,” Upper West Side City Council candidate and former Community Board 7 chair Mel Wymore told Spectator.
The shift in District 8 could be the “biggest change in Manhattan politics in 20 years,” Cohen said.
The commission also released an online mapping tool that allows members of the public to draw their own maps and submit them to the commissioner for consideration.