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Residents push for more minority voting districts

Queens is the second most populous county in the state — by far the most diverse — and its political district lines should be re-drawn to give minorities without political representation in government some political power, argued witnesses at a meeting in Borough Hall Friday.

The meeting was the fifth of 11 public hearings to be held throughout the state for the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, which will make recommendations to the state Legislature on the redrawing of the district lines.

Queens, with a population that has grown by 14 percent over the last 10 years to 2.2 million people, should gain seats in the state Legislature but might lose a Congressional seat depending on where the new lines are drawn.

“Once the lines are placed, it needs to go back to the people to see how these lines relate to the community,” state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said at the hearing. “There should be two Senate seats within southeast Queens and there is the potential to add another Assembly seat.”

He said there is a great deal of interest in the new political district lines to see if minorities in Queens — which have traditionally been under-represented — get more seats based on population increases in the area. ]

Redrawing of the district lines has to be completed before the 2002 elections. The lines, which will be determined by the Legislature, also have to be approved by Gov. George Pataki. There is talk that one of two Congressional seats that New York loses will come from the Queens delegation.

“The issue we are speaking on is a matter of life and death for our community,” said Inderjit Singh, a City Council candidate and chairman of the South Asian Community Council. “Without our cultural cohesiveness our community might not survive.”

There has been a large number of minorities, specifically immigrants from South Asia, who have not had much representation in government because the existing district lines divide communities, he said.

Sayu Bhojwani of the South Asian Youth Action expressed similar sentiments, urging the task force to unite Asian communities to allow them to get a foothold in government.

“Our communities are threatened by the multiple division of districts,” she said, referring to Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights — three neighborhoods with a large number of South Asians, but which touch on several different districts and so are not represented by any one person from the community.

Maspeth and Middle Village have three different U.S. representatives, said Robert Holden of the Juniper Park Civic Association. He said his civic wants the new district lines to keep communities intact and not have a member of Congress representing one side of the street and another representing the other side of the street.

“The federal issue of having congressmen representing more than just our borough of Queens is particularly troublesome,” said Queens Borough President Claire Shulman. “Queens now has seven congressional representatives, only one of whose districts is solely in the borough.”

She said that every effort must be made to ensure district representation be “based on compact and contiguous lines.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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