For decades, Morningside Heights and Manhattan Valley have been divvied up between city council districts, with no one city legislator representing the whole area.
But as the city council district lines are redrawn over the next few months, local elected officials and political leaders hope to see the neighborhoods united into one district.
The Broadway Democrats unanimously approved a resolution Thursday night urging the city’s redistricting commission to place the greater Morningside Heights area—from West 96th to 125th streets, between the Hudson River and Central Park West—within one councilman’s district.
At the state level, the 69th Assembly district, represented by Daniel O’Donnell, does cover that whole span. O’Donnell and Edward Sullivan, his predecessor for 25 years, spoke at the meeting in favor of a united district.
“We would like to have the ability to vote for a candidate who lives amongst us,” Sullivan said. “We all consider ourselves part of the same community.”
Draft maps released earlier this month by the city’s redistricting commission would do little to unify the neighborhoods. The plan would put most of the area west of Amsterdam Avenue, as well as the Douglass Houses complex in Washington Heights council member Robert Jackson’s 7th District, and most of the area to the east of Amsterdam in Harlem council member Inez Dickens’ 9th District.
Democratic District Leader Paula Diamond-Román said that Manhattan Valley has been “played hacky sack with” for years with little thought for the “character and personality” of the neighborhood.
“I would like to see a district where neighbors are represented by the same city councilperson, and constituents could easily find out who their representative is because lines aren’t torturous,” Diamond-Román said after the meeting.
One consequence of multiple districts for the area is that residents have to trek across town to reach their representatives’ offices. Democratic District Leader Curtis Arluck said that the commission’s proposal, while less than ideal, was a “vast improvement” over the current situation, in which most of Manhattan Valley lies in council member Melissa Mark-Viverito’s 8th District, which predominantly consists of East Harlem. Mark-Viverito’s office, on 116th Street and Lexington Avenue, is across an “almost impenetrable geographic boundary” for Manhattan Valley residents, Arluck said.
With Dickens’ office in the State Office Building on 125th Street at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, it is “difficult for most people, especially poor people, to travel easily” to those offices, Broadway Democrats member John Badaracco said.
As a result, constituents’ problems are “shunted around” to different council members, State Democratic Committee member Daniel Marks Cohen said.
Moreover, Cohen said, splitting Morningside Heights into multiple districts weakens the region’s impact in elections as a collective community. “We’re a lot of voters,” Cohen said. “We should all be together.”
Attendees also expressed concern that the 7th District, under the proposed plans, would extend north along the Harlem River rather than further west along the Hudson River. According to Arluck, keeping the district aligned with the Hudson River would maintain the “real locus” of the district and allow all three Columbia campuses—Morningside, Manhattanville, and Medical—to remain within the same district.
The redistricting process already went through its first set of public hearings in August and will have its next hearing on Oct. 4. Jonathan Ettricks, who represented the Redistricting Commission at the meeting, urged attendees to attend the hearing and testify or submit testimony online.
The commission is primarily concerned with fulfilling the New York City charter guidelines—such as ensuring that the populations of each district are roughly equal—rather than dividing the boroughs into their familiar neighborhoods.
“Districters are looking at population changes,” Ettricks said, “not practicality and ease of living.”