By Ariama C. Long
At the last public hearing for city council redistricting, held at Staten Island’s Borough Hall on Thursday, July 7, Black, Brown, and immigrant residents primarily in District 49 (North Shore) pleaded with the commission to keep the council districts whole. The first draft maps come out this Friday, July 15.
The city’s general population grew from 8.2 million in 2010 to 8.8 million in 2020, according to the Census. The process of redistricting was triggered by the decennial census count. The City Council Districting Commission is now redrawing the city’s 51 council districts based on the changing population sizes and demographics of the neighborhoods. The ideal size in each district is 172,882 people with “a 5% deviation,” or wiggle room, said the commission. Maps are then produced and voted on. The maps are meant to be drawn in the interest of protecting racial and political minorities’ voting rights with adequate representation, and not diluting any group’s political power.
About 40 people from, working, or living in North Shore showed up in-person to the borough hall hearing. In full force, they passionately made the case for their communities to be kept whole and entirely on the island, not bunched in with other boroughs like Brooklyn or Manhattan. Mainstays from the island’s nonprofits, such as Project Hospitality and La Colmena, as well as elected representatives were in attendance.
Many begrudgingly referred to Staten Island in the meeting as the “lost” or “forgotten borough” because of its unique geographic location being away from other boroughs and unto itself. District 49 is called North Shore, Mid Island is District 50, and South Shore is District 51.
Former Councilmember Debi Rose, the first person of color elected on Staten Island, kicked off proceedings by testifying as a civilian and community activist.
“The census tells a story that documents the history of redlining, which created barriers to housing in other parts of Staten Island that have resulted in the North Shore being the most densely populated with the highest concentration of Blacks and Hispanics,” said Rose. “The dissolution of the 49th District as it stands today would only serve to disenfranchise communities that have struggled to overcome the economic, health, educational, transportation, and political disparities that exist.”
Resident after resident, be they from North Shore or not, Democrat or not, echoed Rose’s message. Among them was revered former Principal Aurelia Curtis, who taught for 31 years at Staten Island’s Curtis High School before retiring in 2015. She testified to the “human side” of the debate, telling the commission that funding and representation cannot be allowed to be diluted on the North Shore.
“I have witnessed first hand the added value of having a city councilmember who truly sees and understands the needs of her community,” said Curtis. “I appeal to you to hear us, allow us to be seen, allow us to be seen, allow us to be heard when you draw the new city district lines.”
Anthony Reinhart, who chairs the SI Republican Party, and other Republicans, equally urged the commission to keep all three city council districts in Richmond County as they are, “fully contained” within the county. “Local schools, local nonprofits, and local residents will all be done a disservice if any of our three council districts are extended into another borough,” said Reinhart in a virtual testimony at the meeting.
How the city council districts are shaped is important because it determines where the city budget and resources go. Resources, such as access to housing programs, property tax rebates, parks and sanitation money, and investments in public safety programs that many Black, Brown, immigrant, and low-income communities sorely need.
The city council maps being used at the moment have been in effect since 2013.
Based on current data gathered by the The Center for Urban Research at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY’s) Redistricting & You for NYC Council project, North Shore’s population is about 171,708 people, which is approximately 32% Hispanic, 23% Black, and 11% Asian. There are fairly large African and West African communities within the North Shore. The North Shore is also about 58% Democrat.
Mid Island has a population of 165,182 with 64% being white (non-Hispanic), 14% Hispanic, and almost 16% Asian. They have a fairly even mix of Democrats and Republicans. South Shore has about 159,553 people, 77% of which are white (non-Hispanic) and 11% are Hispanic. About 42% of people on the South Shore are Republicans.
On Staten Island, the borough has enough population for three council districts without needing to extend any of those districts into other boroughs, said Director of CUNY’s Mapping Service Steven Romalewski who heads the Redistricting & You project. The congressional, assembly and state senate districts that overlap Staten Island’s three city council districts do include bits of South Brooklyn.
Romalewski pointed out that South Shore’s population is almost 8% below the citywide average district population, meaning the district boundaries will need to expand to include more people.
He said the other two city council districts on the island could accommodate that expansion, though.
“That said, you can’t draw a single-district or single-borough plan—once you change the lines on one district it has a ripple effect across all of them,” said Romalewski in an emailed statement. “So it’s possible that the configuration of other districts creates the necessity for a Staten Island-Brooklyn district, for example. But at this point I think it’s unlikely.”
The City Council Districting Commission will vote to release preliminary maps for all the city council districts this Friday, July 15 at 11 a.m. at 22 Reade Street in Manhattan.
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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