By Stephon Johnson
Last week’s newly proposed congressional maps were finally released by Special Master Jonathan Cervas, chosen by Judge Patrick McAllister to redraw the maps created by a vote in the state legislature.
Cervas’ maps have succeeded in causing an uproar among Black and Brown elected officials either drawn out of their districts or left wide open to be contested in upcoming elections.
This is the first time Democrats had an opportunity to control the redistricting lines in New York State in several decades, but the Dem-controlled congressional and senate maps were shot down by Republican judges and ruled “unconstitutional,” prompting a ‘special master’ from out of state to create new maps on a rushed deadline.
“This new congressional map is an attempt to violently disrupt the work Democrats have done and continue to do for people of color, poor communities and small businesses in New York City. The redistricting process was a violation of our citizens’ voices, as they were blatantly ignored by the court of appeals, which selected an out-of-town Republican to oversee this process,” said State Assemblymember Stefani Zinerman.
Zinerman said that she worked tirelessly in 2020 to encourage constituents to participate in the Census to ensure that people in her district in the 56th Assembly were counted and adequately represented. Being counted in the census is important because it helps elected officials apply for state budget funding and obtain more resources for things like healthcare facilities, schools and public safety programs.
“Last year, I convened the Bed Stuy/Crown Heights Committee for Fair Redistricting to ensure that our district lines represented the will of the people. The committee successfully produced two maps meant to unify Bed Stuy and Crown Heights,” said Zinerman. “Unfortunately, those maps were not adopted by LATFOR and now the special master has split our 56th district in half between Representatives Hakeem S. Jeffries and Yvette D. Clarke, which pulls them away from their known constituency.”
The predominantly Black Assembly District 83 in the Bronx also got split into three different congressional districts.
Zinerman, like U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, called out the redistricting process for lacking in investment in New York City, ignoring chances for public input, and systematically disenfranchising Black and Latinx voters.
In earlier statements, Jeffries pointed out that the map “diluted” the Black population in the 8th and 9th congressional districts, breaking into pieces the majority Black and historic neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant. Bed-Stuy was once represented by activist Shirley Chisholm, who was elected when the district was created in 1968 after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, said Jeffries. It also “degrades the Black vote” in the 5th, 16th, 17th congressional districts and reduces the mostly Hispanic voting population in the 7th and 15th congressional districts.
Jeffries’ congressional district in the 8th had cut into neighboring U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke’s district in the 9th while Bed-Stuy and Prospect Heights were eliminated, said the Brooklyn Paper.
After the 2020 election, New York State had seven Black congressmembers. “Right-wing activists, such as the Republican expert who clearly influenced the Court in this matter, have been trying to undue this incredible accomplishment of Black representation ever since,” said Jeffries in a statement.
Jeffries added that the “most Jewish district in the country” had been “unnecessarily and gratuitously obliterated” by separating the Upper West Side and Borough Park in the 10th congressional district under longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Jerrold Lewis Nadler.
“The Court of Appeals recklessly ripped away the redistricting process from the elected representatives of New York State and set in motion a flawed process predetermined to benefit a Republican Party that embraces violent insurrectionists and refuses to denounce white supremacist replacement theory,” said Jeffries. “The fix was in from the beginning.”
State Sen. Kevin Parker said that it definitely seemed to be an “attack on Black electoral participation and representation.”
Parker has been in office for the past 19 years in Brooklyn and has already experienced a round of census and redistricting in 2000. He said for years, with the way districts were configured, Democrats were representing more people than Republicans in the city but Republicans were maintaining power in Black and Latino areas by “splitting that vote up” so that it becomes less of a concentration in one district.
Since this is the second redistricting he’s been through while in office, Parker said he understands the process. Parker’s seat essentially covered central Brooklyn in the 21st senate district, in a particular redistricting configuration, for the last nine years. Originally his district went into Borough Park, a concentrated ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, Canarsie, Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Ditmas Park, and Kensington for 10 years prior.
“I got elected under the same conditions in 2002 as now. There was a census in 2000, redistricting in 2001,” said Parker. “When they redistricted, the state senate went from 61 to 62 members and my district was a new district. They happened to build a district right where I lived.”
He said though it was a bit of a “culture shock” representing an Orthodox Jewish community, he made lifelong friends like State Sen. Simcha Felder. Felder started out in politics as Parker’s liaison with the Jewish community. During redistricting, said Parker, Republicans redrew the voting lines basically for Felder to win in Borough Park, which naturally led Democrats to challenge the maps. There were no significant changes then compared to now, said Parker.
Parker said that the ‘special master’ also did a number on the senate lines this time around.
“My district went from being cut east to west, in a way that I thought was very compact, that included Park Slope, bits of Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace,” said Parker about the current redistricting changes. “Took me totally out of those communities and cut me south into Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, and Bath Beach. Areas that were previously represented by Senator Roxanne Persuad.”
Parker currently has two challengers petitioning to get on the ballot against him, one who was running in an adjacent race against Felder before she was redistricted into his and a Democratic socialist.
“I’m not nervous,” said Parker about his bid for reelection in the August primaries. “This is the people’s seat. If the people want me to come back, then I’d like to come back and continue the work that I’ve started. If they don’t want me to come back, then I’ll move on, do some other things, and serve my community in a different way.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w
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