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Armed with 2000 census figures that show a surge in racial and ethnic minorities in city neighborhoods, such as Flushing and Richmond Hill, a coalition has launched a compaign to press for fair representation of those groups in the redrawing of election districts.
Late last month the New York Voting Rights Consortium, a coalition of organizations including the Puerto Rican and Asian American legal defense and education funds, sponsored a one-day workshop called Drawing Democracy geared toward educating community groups, including some from Queens, about the redistricting process.
Redistricting, which takes place once every 10 years to coincide with the release of census figures, is the revising of lines that form the boundaries of the districts from which U.S. representatives, state legislators and local officials are elected.
Mandated by the constitutional principle of one person, one vote, the aim of redistricting is to create voting blocs with equal populations.
It affects who you vote with, your ability to vote for your candidate of choice and ultimately it affects the resources that get to your community, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Counsel Janai Nelson told the nearly 100 community leaders that turned out for the conference.
The process has already begun in New York state with the appointment of a legislative task force that went to work after census results were released in April. Conference organizers and state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) were upset the task force did not include a single person of color.
New York state will be losing two congressional seats because its population growth has been outpaced by other states, but the consortium contends New York City should not bear the brunt of those losses when lines are redrawn.
While the states population increased by only 5 percent since the 1990 census, the citys population growth was twice that percentage.
Thats where we come into the process, Nelson said, to make sure minority communities are represented.
It has been rumored that U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) might lose his spot, but Nelson said based solely on population trends the states loss of two seats from 31 seats should not affect New York Citys representation.
Smith, who testified at redistricting hearings in the state Legislature, said Queens politicians were very concerned about the potential loss of a congressional seat.
It definitely shouldnt come from New York City, he said. If thats the case, what will end up happening will be lawsuits.
Smith said Queens population growth alone should entitle it to an extra senate seat as well as two more assembly districts and when the City Council redraws its lines next year, an added seat in City Hall.
The redistricting process, which is highly politicized and has spurred many lawsuits, must adhere to the 1965 Voting Rights Act by not diluting minority voting strength.
They dont seem to be able to create a plan that is not discriminating against one of our groups, said Esmerelda Simmons, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College. Its either Asians scattered all over the map or Latinos or blacks not having their fair share.
Tarry Hum, assistant professor of Urban Studies at Queens College, said it was vital for Queens Asians, who make up 18 percent of the boroughs population, to fight for a fair drawing of electoral boundaries.
Asians may have grown strong in numbers but not in vote, she said, noting that they have grown faster than any other racial group in the city in the last 10 years.
Although John Liu (D-Flushing) recently became the citys first Asian-American city council representative, Hum said other areas in the borough such as Richmond Hill and Elmhurst could elect Asian representatives if district lines were redrawn favorably.
Dividing minority neighborhoods that could vote together into separate districts or packing groups that could comprise more than one district into a single bloc have historically limited minority representation, organizers of the conference said.
Mindy Kim, a program associate with the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, attended the workshop to learn how her Flushing group could get involved.
Theres not a lot of information about [redistricting], she said. You have to come out to become educated on these types of issues.
According to Census 2000, the population growth of people of color significantly outpaced the overall growth of the city. More than 2 million New York City residents are Latino, 2 million are African American and 800,000 are Asian American.
Veteran voting rights attorney Juan Cartegena, general counsel to the Community Service Society of New York, said those numbers mean minority groups are now armed with a new weapon in the fight to make redistricting fair.
We expect to increase our representation, he said.
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.
©2002 Community Newspaper Group
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