Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Randall's Island Redistricting Deal Alleged

The controversial Randall's Island tennis facility. Under redrawn City Council district lines Randall's and Wards Island would become part of District 22 in Queens if adopted. (Photo by Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) 


Randall’s Island, a tract of less than a square mile in the East River, is part of the borough of Manhattan.

The move may violate the New York City Charter, according to one good-government group.
Yet a panel that recently drew New York City Council district lines, which are set to stand for the next decade, moved the sparsely populated island from its current Manhattan council district into a district that is otherwise entirely in Queens. That’s even though Queens is geographically farther from the island than Manhattan and the Bronx are, according to Crain's New York Business.      

And East Harlem and South Bronx community activists call the move politically motivated, arguing that Randall’s Island was corralled into Queens because the island’s current council member, Melissa-Mark Viverito of Manhattan, and local activists have emerged as thorns in the side of city officials who are pushing private development on Randall’s Island.
For years, community activists in the South Bronx and East Harlem have argued that the island should be the public backyard for their communities, where quality parkland is scarce. Instead, they argue, the Bloomberg administration has attempted to turn Randall’s Island into a country club for the rich, full of golf courses and tennis courts.
The 15-member Districting Commission was appointed by the City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. At public hearings, South Bronx and East Harlem activists argued for the island to remain in a Manhattan-based district. There was little public support for moving it to Queens.
“I think it was an effort to get Viverito out of there,” said Harry Bubbins of Friends of Brook Park, a South Bronx community group. “People in Queens are going to feel less connected to it and pay less attention to what’s happening [than Manhattan and Bronx groups].”
Common Cause New York released a statement arguing that the new lines likely violate the charter.
“The New York City Charter is very clear that districts should not cross borough borders unless absolutely necessary,” the good-government group wrote. “There is no question that Randall’s Island has a much closer association with the community of East Harlem than with Astoria, sharing a borough, community board, and current Council District 8.”
Under the new district maps, Randall’s Island would be represented by whoever wins a 2013 race for the seat currently held by term-limited Queens Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.
A Districting Commission spokeswoman said Randall’s Island was grouped with Queens in order to make Ms. Mark-Viverito’s district more Hispanic.
“The commission decided that in order for the proposed District 8 to become more of a Latino district and to reflect the Hispanic population growth in the Bronx, they decided to include more of the borough and had to remove Randall’s Island from the proposed map,” she said.
Randall’s Island has a population of only about 1,600 (largely made up of homeless people and residents of a psychiatric ward), so it’s unlikely that its population numbers played a major role in its move from Manhattan to Queens. (However, a supporter of Ms. Mark-Viverito noted after this article was initially posted that the population shift actually could have made a difference in controversially making her seat narrowly majority-Bronx.)
Since 2003, the Bloomberg administration has given $155 million for 65 new ballfields, new bike and hiking paths, comfort stations, and shoreline reconstruction to the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation, a public-private group that manages the parkland, the Daily News has reported. A number of controversies have erupted, including over a 2006 deal between the city and Upper East Side private schools in which the schools were to pay $52.6 million for their construction and refurbishment in exchange for exclusive use. (The deal was struck down in court.) A deal for a controversial water park was also scuttled in 2007 amid opposition. More recently, a swanky tennis center with high court fees run by tennis star John McEnroe was opened amid rancor from East Harlem park advocates, who noted the project did not go through the normal city land use process. Mr. McEnroe is now seeking to add new courts.
“All of this has been pay-to-play. It’s public land being given to private developers,” charged Geoffrey Croft, of New York City Park Advocates. “If Bloomberg wants to give his own land to private developers, that’s his choice.”
Mr. Bubbins and other advocates say bringing litigation charging that the new district violates the charter is an option. But they’re hopeful that the furor over the Brooklyn Council district that could help Assemblyman Vito Lopez run for a council seat will lead to the council’s rejection of new district lines by a Dec. 7 deadline. Mr. Lopez has been embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal.
If the City Council rejects the new lines,  district lines would go back to the commission for further revision.
Read More:

Randall’s Island redistricting deal is alleged
Crain's New York Business - November 27, 2012 -  By Chris Bragg   

Crain's New York Business - November 26, 2012 - By Chris Bragg 

City & State - October 23, 2012 - By Nick Powell 

Common Cause/NY Statement on NYC Proposed Redistricting Maps

NEW YORK, NY (11/20/2012)(readMedia)-- On November 15th, the Districting Commission released its revised proposed map for the 2013 redistricting of the New York City Council. Although the maps for Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island represent a reasonable proposal based on Charter criteria and population statistics, the plan for Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx continues to be problematic.There are three aspects of the maps which raise substantial questions: the ratio of representation between the Bronx and Manhattan, Council District 8, and the removal of Randall's Island from Manhattan into Queens.

"The Districting Commission's proposed map for the New York City Council appears to be influenced by political forces outside of the Charter's objective criteria. This raises serious concerns about the Commission's independence and calls into question the validity of the process," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

The Bronx vs. Manhattan
In the current New York City Council map Manhattan has ten city council seats that are either entirely or majority in the borough (districts 1-10) while the Bronx has eight (districts 11-18). The reason is very simple: Manhattan has roughly 200,000 more people than the Bronx. As of the 2010 census, the relationship has not changed proportionally.
2010 Total Pop.Council District Average Pop.Council Districts

However, the Districting Commission has proposed to give the Bronx and Manhattan equal representation on the City Council with nine districts each by moving the majority of District 8's population into the Bronx. In order to do so, the Commission has systematically overpopulated the Manhattan districts in comparison to the Bronx districts. Districts 1,2,3,4,5,6, and 8 are all packed to the maximum legal limit, pushing the average deviation of Manhattan districts to +4.14%. In the Bronx, the average deviation is only +0.7%.

Council District 8
The absurd lengths to which the Commission has gone to give the Bronx equal control on the council is reflected in East Harlem's Council District 8. The other districts in Manhattan are packed just to the right extent to shift District 8 to a majority-Bronx population. The Bronx-Manhattan breakdown for District 8 is now 84,377 (Bronx) and 84,357 (Manhattan), giving the district a majority Bronx population by a mere margin of 20.

There is no question that District 8 must move farther north into the Bronx as a result of population declines registered in Washington Heights and the need to balance populations and follow the Voting Rights Act, but there is no reason it needs to move so far into the Bronx that it becomes a majority-Bronx district. At an October 4th public hearing, Common Cause New York presented testimonydemonstrating how the Commission's September draft could be adjusted to have District 8 maintain its current boundaries in East Harlem and Randall's Island. Despite testimony from East Harlem community residents to maintain the current boundaries of East Harlem in District 8, the Commission only restored a few blocks along Park Avenue.

Randall's Island
The New York City Charter is very clear that districts should not cross borough borders unless absolutely necessary. The Commission staff was specifically instructed to respect natural boundaries. Further, the City Charter provides: "district lines shall keep intact neighborhoods and communities with established ties of common interest and association, whether historical, racial, economic, ethnic, religious or other." Yet Randall's Island, part of Manhattan, has been shifted into the Astoria Queens-based District 22. There is no question that Randall's Island has a much closer association with the community of East Harlem than with Astoria, sharing a borough, community board, and current Council District 8. The Commission has provided no justification for this arrangement, which appears, on its face, to violate the Charter.

New York's City Council redistricting process is intended to adjust political representation in line with changes to the city's population as measured by the decennial Census. The City Charter (Chapter 2-A § 52) stipulates that districts must be redrawn according to a strict set of criteria to assure proportional and accurate representation:
  • Districts may vary from the average population by a maximum of +/- 5%
  • Districting plan must ensures the fair and effective representation of the racial and language minority groups in New York protected by the Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • District lines must keep intact neighborhoods and communities with established ties of common interest and association
  • Each district shall be compact and shall be no more than twice as long as it is wide.
  • A district shall not cross borough or county boundaries.
  • Districts shall not be drawn for the purpose of separating geographic concentrations of voters enrolled in the same political party into two or more districts

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