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Revised district boundaries confound Indo-Caribbeans

Despite a Borough Hall public hearing where Queens’ Indo- Caribbeans and South Asians railed against proposed legislative redistricting plans, revised state senate and assembly boundaries released Monday did little to quell the anger of a group that believes it is being left out of the democratic process.

The new lines were expected to be approved by the state Legislature later this week and will then be sent to Gov. George Pataki for his signature. The U.S. Department of Justice must also approve certain sections of the plan.

The assembly plan creates a new Asian majority district in Flushing and a mostly Hispanic district in Jackson Heights. But it divides Richmond Hill and Ozone Park’s Indo-Caribbean and South Asian communities into five districts when they were already carved into four areas.

Glen Magpantay, a staff attorney for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said his group was pleased with the proposed establishment of the Asian-majority seat in Flushing, but thought the assembly plan did not go far enough to ensure fair representation of Indo-Caribbean and South Asian groups in the Richmond Hill area.

“We had advocated to keep the Richmond Hill/Ozone Park community together,” he said. “But the gerrymandering of the community has been exacerbated.”

The Senate plan pits state Sens. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) against each other in a district that would cover parts of Astoria, Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, Flushing, Whitestone, Bay Terrace, Jamaica Estates and Fresh Meadows. It creates a new Hispanic majority in District 13 in Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and Corona.

Due to changes in population recorded in the 2000 census, the state has to redraw district lines for the Assembly and Senate. The figures call for one state senator for every 306,072 New Yorkers and one assemblyman for every 126,510 New Yorkers.

The districts are allowed to vary slightly in population, but Magpantay contends the proposed lines favor upstate districts at the expense of city areas, particularly those in Queens.

The city districts are packed, diluting their voting strength, he said. Most of the districts that have fewer than 300,000 people are upstate, while those with more are in New York City.

According to an analysis published in The New York Times, the Republican-led Senate plan puts an average of 297,328 people in upstate districts and 313,204 people in city districts, which are more likely to be both minority and Democratic.

In the Democratic-led Assembly, the disparity is smaller with upstate districts averaging 128,338 people and city districts averaging 123,204 people, the analysis said.

“The greatest overpopulation is in Queens and that’s wrong. Why is the Senate giving New York City, specifically Queens, less representation?” Magpantay asked. “It was a systematic placement of over-populated districts in areas with high minority populations.”

Days before the revised boundary plan was released many Indo-Caribbeans spoke out against what they perceive as a lack of political representation at a forum featuring U.S. Rep Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans). It was sponsored by the Richmond Hill East Business Persons Corp. at Our Lady of the Cenacle Church. Richmond Hill falls within Meeks’ district.

“With these five proposed divisions, it is almost impossible for us to elect someone of an Indian background,” Richmond Hill’s Taj Rajkumar, who waged a recent failed assembly campaign, told Meeks during a question-and-answer period.

Rajkumar and other leaders of neighborhood’s Indo-Caribbean and South Asian communities had previously appealed for representation to the Legislative Task Force on Redistricting during a March 13 meeting at Borough Hall.

While he disagreed with the claim that Richmond Hill is not represented on the political front, Meeks said he understood the concerns of the area’s Ind0-Caribbean and South Asian communities.

“I have heard the statement that Richmond Hill doesn’t have representation,” he told a crowd of about 40 residents. “Sometimes that offends me because I have done everything I can for Richmond Hill.”

At the same time, Meeks recalled court battles in the mid-’80s to get representation for the largely African-American population of Far Rockaway.

“The Constitution loses its meaning if the average citizen feels he is not being represented in government,” Meeks told a group of about 40 residents. “Richmond Hill feels left out of the political process far too often.”

Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) showed up at the forum because the new lines would make a section of Richmond Hill part of his district. He said he wanted to introduce himself to neighborhood residents.

Rajkumar said Richmond Hill’s Indo-Caribbean and South Asian communities will not accept the current lines. He has launched a petition drive urging Gov. Pataki to veto the redistricting plan and organized a coalition of community leaders who visited Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s (D-Manhattan) office Friday afternoon.

“We all expressed our concerns, what we feel and we’re hoping that the speaker of the Assembly will intervene to ensure that justice is done,” he said. “We’re just asking to be treated fairly.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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