After each census comes the dance known as redistricting. This time
around, New York City and the surrounding suburbs accounted for
virtually all the growth in New York State. Much of upstate actually
lost population. The result is that, however the new districts are
drawn, they will have to benefit New York City, giving the city more
representatives in the New York State Senate and New York State
Assembly, as well as preserving the city's proportion of the state's
dwindling U.S. Congressional delegation. But that doesn't mean the
process is going to be pretty. Redistricting, some observers have said,
is like sausage; one does not want to watch what goes into making
The number of members of the New York State Assembly who represent
New York City will increase from 61 to 63, out of a total of 150 seats.
The number of members of the New York State Senate must increase from
about 25 to about 26 (some State Senators have districts that include
only parts of the city), out of a total of 62 seats.
In the United States Congress, it will be more complicated. The total
number of members of Congress in New York State must drop from 31 to 29.
Much of that loss must come from upstate. But the 14 local members of
Congress may see their seat dangerously redrawn for a different reason
- the change in ethnic and racial composition.
In the past, Congressional districts were created in very odd shapes
in order to carve out a district in which the majority of the population
were "minorities." Thanks to recent rulings by the United States
Supreme Court, when the 2000 redistricting gets into full swing,
strangely shaped districts will be seen as "constitutionally suspect"
and may need to be redrawn. These could include Nydia Velazquez's
Congressional district, already redrawn for the 1996 election, which
includes parts of Brooklyn, Queens and the Lower East Side; Nita Lowey's
Congressional district, which swings down from Westchester through the
Bronx into parts of Queens; and Elliot Engel's district, which puts
together minority populations in several areas of the Bronx with
portions of Yonkers, Mount Vernon and New Rochelle.
It is true that race or Hispanic status can no longer be the
"predominant" or primary factor in redrawing districts, but a recent
Supreme Court ruling indicates race can be considered. Voting rights
specialists use the terms "packing" and "cracking" when describing the
methods to dilute minority-voting power. "Packing" means corralling the
minority voters in as few districts as possible, so that, while a
minority candidate might be elected, the white incumbents in the nearby
districts will not be threatened.
"Cracking" means splitting the
minority vote among several districts so that they will be unable to
elect a preferred candidate. Recently, "unpacking" of the state
legislature occurred in New Jersey, a process upheld by the federal
courts so far. African American Democrats in that state originally
backed the plan. But the slate proposed by the Democrats in the mixed
race districts, once the plan was accepted, is all white. How will all
these factors affect such districts as the one represented for decades
by Charlie Rangel, for instance, the dean of the Black Congressional
Caucus who now finds himself in the second most heavily Hispanic
district in New York State at just over 50 percent?
Redistricting is often an exercise in absurdity done behind closed
doors. But there are some signs that this time around, it will at least
be more out in the open. Governor George Pataki has budgeted three
million dollars so that his office may become involved, and the new
computer technology means that regular members of the community can at
least theoretically learn what is going on, and make their voices
Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981, done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and provides expert testimony on a range of cases, including housing discrimination. The opinions expressed are his alone.
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