City Council member Robert Jackson told Washington Heights residents to get involved in the city redistricting process Wednesday night, at a community forum attended by several politicians who might replace him on the council.
Jackson, who has criticized the city redistricting commission’s first draft of new council district lines, told a room of about 30 community members and local politicos that it’s important to make sure that “the minority population is not negatively impacted” by the redistricting. He and his staff also emphasized the importance of his partnership with fellow northern Manhattan City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, saying that the neighborhood benefits from being split into two council districts. Jackson represents Morningside Heights, West Harlem, and parts of Upper Manhattan.
“The more voices you have at City Hall to say, ‘This is not acceptable,’ the better off you are,” said Johanna Garcia, Jackson’s director of budget and legislative affairs.
Zead Ramadan, a former chair of Community Board 12, said that the lines proposed by the City Council would take political influence away from northern Manhattan by putting most of it into one district.
“We lose so much power uptown,” Ramadan said. “The center of gravity is going to shift down to western Harlem. And that’s not a bad thing—they’re great neighbors and all that, but we lose a lot of voice.”
“Because right now, we have two council members who also share the land area pretty equally, so when they advocate for millions of dollars of resources, they’re bringing it to our community,” he added. “And I think that’s the tragedy. We lose a tremendous funding source.”
In the audience Wednesday night was community leader Cheryl Pahaham, one of two candidates for the City Council seat currently held by Jackson, who is term-limited and running for Manhattan borough president. Other attendees included northern Manhattan Democratic District Leader Mark Levine, who has formed an exploratory committee to consider a possible bid, and legendary Washington Heights politician Maria Luna, who has indicated that she might run too.
“What it is that we need is to make sure that those that get elected deliver to our community,” Luna said to the crowd. “It’s really the quality of the elected officials that we should be concerned about.”
Jackson said that most local residents don’t know how much they can do to influence the redistricting, making it important “to hold forums to give them the opportunity.” He encouraged the forum’s attendees to submit their own redistricting proposals and to testify at the city’s public hearings.
“They can email, they can write, they can give testimony, they can go online and manipulate the lines themselves,” Jackson said after the event. “At least then people can’t say, ‘I don’t know.’ They know that I informed them.”
Frank Hess, a special assistant to State Assembly member Herman Farrell, said that he thinks some locals will get involved in the redistricting process as a result of the forum.
“It allows them to see what the process is, but then the question becomes, ‘How can they affect it?’” Hess said. “And that I can’t answer.”
Luna, though, said that the new district lines are not the most important issue at hand.
“Truth is that this is one city, one people,” Luna said. “Whoever wins has to be able to do the best for all of us. The lines are invisible.”