City Council members at City Hall (photo: John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit)
The New York City Districting Commission tasked with redrawing the city's 51 Council districts is expected to vote on a new draft map on Thursday, marking one of the last stages in the city's controversial redistricting process.
The new map, which was first reported on by the New York Times and previewed by Gotham Gazette on Tuesday, addresses some of the biggest points of contention in the preliminary lines released by the commission in July. If approved, the map will be sent to the City Council for approval or feedback and possible redrafting. While the map may still change substantially after the Council's motion, it paints a picture of the direction the city's political lines are likely to take.
Redistricting takes place every decade to account for population shifts captured in the Census count. This year, the redistricting commission had to account for an increase of 630,000 residents in the city from 2010 to 2020, while also adhering to criteria outlined in the U.S. Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act, the State Constitution and the City Charter. The commission received over 9,000 submissions from the public weighing in on the new lines.
If the Council accepts the commission's map, the process effectively ends and the new lines go into place for the next City Council elections in 2023 and for government representation as of 2024. If it rejects the maps, the commission will hold another round of public hearings and unilaterally submit a final map in December to be certified by the City Clerk.
Seven of the commission's 15 members are appointed by the mayor, five by the City Council's Democratic majority and three by its Republican minority. The map requires nine affirmative votes to pass.
The lines will determine how communities are grouped and represented in the City Council, with implications for decisions about city funding, land use, and legislation. The preliminary maps released in July triggered a backlash from many corners of the city, with stakeholders in dozens of neighborhoods raising concerns that their communities would be fractured and their voting power diminished.
The commission is also expected to present a racial voting bloc analysis, a breakdown of the racial and ethnic make-up of the voting-age population in each draft district, which the commission has used to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act. John Flateau, the body's executive director, is also expected to give a verbal presentation to explain the new lines and the logic behind them, according to a spokesperson for the commission. A final report with those narratives is expected to be published in the weeks after the Thursday vote, the spokesperson said.
Here are several key takeaways from the new City Council map that the Districting Commission could pass on Thursday:
Population Growth in Asian American Communities
New York City's population grew by 630,000 residents or 7.7% to 8.8 million between the 2010 and 2020 Census counts, driven largely by an increase in the city's Asian American population. One of the biggest questions around the new map is how it will deal with those communities.
The city's Asian American population increased by 345,000 residents, the largest of any racial or ethnic group captured in Census data, with growth in almost every neighborhood of the city.
Queens, which has the largest Asian American population, saw the biggest total growth of any borough. The neighborhoods of Flushing, Long Island City, Jamaica, and Elmhurst saw the biggest influxes of the borough. The Long Island City-Hunters Point section, in particular, saw its Asian American population more than quintuple. South Jamaica's Asian American population more than tripled.
Brooklyn's southern communities saw another significant increase. Bensonhurst, which grew by close to 12,000 residents, had the most new Asian American residents of any neighborhood in the city. That community is currently divided among four City Council districts and became a flashpoint for achieving a new Asian-plurality district. The new map places much of Bensonhurst into Council District 43, currently held by Council Member Justin Brannan and creates an Asian majority within the district's voting age population, according to Eddie Borges, a commission spokesperson.
Downtown Brooklyn also experienced an influx, while across the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, Chinatown, Soho, and the Lower East Side were the only neighborhoods to lose Asian American residents.
The Asian American populations in Downtown Brooklyn, Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan, Parkchester in the Bronx, and the Grasmere-Arrochar-South Beach-Dongan Hills neighborhoods of Staten Island all more than doubled over the last decade.
A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams referred Gotham Gazette to her previous comments on the redistricting process. “It is critical that new City Council district lines not only keep communities of interest together, but also preserve principles that were established to protect and enfranchise historically marginalized communities of color,” Adams said in August.
Other Demographic Shifts
Asian American communities weren't the only group to see major growth over the last decade. The city's Hispanic population increased by 154,000, about a quarter of the total population growth, according to Census data. The largest growth was in the Bronx, followed by Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Manhattan's Hispanic population saw a slight decline of fewer than 1,000 residents.
While the Bronx remained home to the largest Hispanic population, the biggest growth in the number of Hispanic residents was in southern Brooklyn – in Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge – where stakeholders in the local Latino and Asian communities fought to be kept whole.
Hispanic communities shrunk in southern Queens and northern Brooklyn, East Williamsburg and Sunset Park, in western Brooklyn, and much of northern Manhattan.
That growth was offset by decreases in the city's Black population, by 84,000 residents, and to a much lesser extent the white population, by 3,000.
Brooklyn had the largest drop in its Black population, followed by Queens, and Manhattan. The Bronx and Staten Island saw modest increases in the number of Black residents.
The preliminary districting map released in July kept the three districts on Staten Island intact, which had knock-on effects for the rest of the boroughs as different districts had to be drawn to accommodate the increase in the city’s population. The revised map, however, extends District 50 from the Mid-Island to Brooklyn, where it encompasses Fort Hamilton and parts of Bath Beach.
Council Member Joe Borelli, the Republican majority leader, fought hard to keep Staten Island’s districts contained. Borelli has seemed to wield an outsize influence over the redistricting process, despite only appointing three members to the 15-member commission, and the news maps seem poised to boost Republican representation on the Council.
Asked for comment on the revised maps, Borelli said in a text message, “We will see what happens at the vote.”
The Redistricting Commission initially proposed creating an “Asian opportunity district” in South Brooklyn which would have combined parts of District 43, represented by Council Member Justin Brannan, and District 38, represented by Council Member Alexa Aviles, both Democrats. But, in doing so, the commission split up the historically Latino communities of Sunset Park and Red Hook, and would have pit the two Council members against each other. “Pitting one community of interest against another and wiping out hard-fought gains that have existed for a generation is not the path forward,” they said in a joint statement at the time.
The new map broadly undoes those changes. The new District 38 will continue to cover Red Hook and Sunset Park while also including large parts of Dyker Heights. Brannan’s base in Bay Ridge will remain intact under the new District 47, which now extends to the east and includes a sliver of Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Coney Island, and Sea Gate.
Brannan did not respond to a request for comment and Aviles declined to comment on the new maps.
The new District 43 now includes parts of eastern Sunset Park, Bensonhurst and parts of Bath Beach and Gravesend. That may be welcome news to Asian American advocates in South Brooklyn who have been advocating for a district that consolidates Bensonhurst, a community with a large and growing Asian American population which is currently split between four City Council districts.
According to Eddie Borges, a spokesperson for the redistricting commission, more than half of Council District 43's voting-age population – 54% – is Asian American, which makes it an "effective district" in terms of having a voting majority.
"We put as much of the Bensonhurst areas as we could into District 43," Borges told Gotham Gazette of the new draft map. "Not all of it made it because otherwise we'd end up underpopulating other districts."
Asher Ross, who is leading the redistricting work for the New York Immigration Coalition, said the new map was an improvement in many ways over the preliminary proposal. In District 39, for instance, he said the new map consolidates the South Asian community in Kensington into a single district. The preliminary map had split that neighborhood into two districts.
Activists in Southeast Queens are likely to be disappointed by the new map, which splits Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park into two districts, dividing a growing population of Indo-Caribbean and South Asian residents that have complained about a lack of representation on the Council. That proposal was also advanced in an alternate map by the Unity Map Coalition, which includes the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), The Center For Law And Social Justice At Medgar Evers College (CLSJ) and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.
“While we are still analyzing in detail the Districting Commission’s revised plan, we are not surprised that yet again the commission has cracked and split some protected communities of interest,” said Jerry Vattamala, Director of the Democracy Program at AALDEF, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “In Queens we see the removal of Elmhurst below Queens Boulevard. The commission's map does not adequately represent many New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable. While we appreciate the effort of the commission to make this process inclusive with a record number of community comments and input, we still feel that the Unity Map will better secure the future of New York City and fortify its communities of color. We again urge the commission to adopt the Unity Map in full, which is simply a better plan for all New Yorkers.”
But Black elected officials and community leaders from Queens rejected the Unity Map and expressed concern that other minority groups could be empowered at the expense of their own constituents. The commission seemed to heed some of their demands, in particular by redrawing Rochdale Village, the largest affordable co-op development of Black homeowners in Queens, into the new District 28 with South Ozone Park rather than splitting it into different districts.
The new map does seem to keep communities of interest intact in District 26 in western Queens. In the preliminary proposal, the district had included Roosevelt Island and parts of the east side of Manhattan from 56th Street to 79th Street. But the new map keeps the district contained in Queens and integrates Woodside into the district, preserving the large Asian population there. “That’s definitely a drastic improvement over the previous proposed map,” NYIC’s Ross said.
Among the major changes in the new map was the consolidation of most of Hell’s Kitchen back into a single district rather than being split across three districts as initially proposed.
The map also restored Sutton Place and Roosevelt Island into the new District 5, a move that Council Member Julie Menin, an Upper East Side Democrat, was satisfied with. “I am going to reserve full comment for when the official maps are released on Thursday, but I am thrilled that this leaked map restores Roosevelt Island, Sutton Place, and the Upper East Side to Council District 5,” she said in a statement. “I testified in front of the Commission strongly advocating that they restore these areas to a Manhattan-based District and keep communities of interest intact. It is so important that community voices and input be heard in this process and my district came out in full force on this issue to make their voices heard.”
Ross said the preliminary map would have created a Latino majority district in the Northwest Bronx, including North Riverdale, Woodlawn, Fiedston, Spuyten Duyvil, Kingsbridge and Norwood. But the new map seems to have rolled those changes back and includes parts of Wakefield while removing parts of Kingsbridge Heights. “It seems that they may have reversed that and kind of gone back to the status quo,” Ross said.
“It does seem that there's a lot of splitting of neighborhoods and communities in the map,” he added.
Council Member Pierina Sanchez, a Bronx Democrat who represents District 14, praised the map, however, for bringing the Kingsbridge Armory in Kingsbridge Heights back into her district. “This change from the previous revised plan to include Kingsbridge Armory within District 14 is promising and shows how responsive the Commission was to the demands of our community, who came out en masse and in support of keeping this infrastructure,” she said in a statement. “As I mentioned in my testimony, the Kingsbridge Armory has long been a physical manifestation of the immense potential and aspirations of our community. It is only right that our community of strivers, who have fought for so long to put this asset to work for the community, remain at the forefront of deciding its future.”
Samar Khurshid contributed to this story.