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Protest backfired in Ridgewood council fight: Commish

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Ridgewood residents may have undermined their own cause when they passionately argued against the neighborhood’s division between two city council districts, a member of the city Districting Commission said.

Despite Ridgewood’s overwhelming opposition to the proposed boundaries, some residents have come out in favor of the new lines for uniting two neighborhoods with common interests that cross the Queens-Brooklyn border.

But a far more vocal contingent from the community denounced the plan at the New York City Districting Commission’s Queens public hearing in November, which is why some local leaders reacted with dismay last month when the commission approved a second draft of the council map without restoring the southern part of Ridgewood to Councilman Dennis Gallagher’s (R-Middle Village) 30th District.

The map, which went on to the City Council for comment, pushes north the boundary of Councilwoman Diana Reyna’s (D-Brooklyn) 34th District to include a section of Ridgewood in the area that also covers Bushwick.

Karen Burstein, a former state senator who sits on the 15-member Districting Commission, said the community’s strong showing at the hearing was powerful but ultimately backfired when those who testified repeatedly cited fears that the commissioners deemed unfounded.

“It appeared that some of the people came under a very serious misimpression about the consequences of council redistrict­ing,” Burstein said in a phone interview last week. “You don’t lose your zip code. You don’t stop being in Queens. Your property values are not determined by where your council district is.”

Burstein’s comments drew ire from state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood), who said concerns about interborough boundary changes for school districts or community boards have merit.

“I believe that it is patronizing and condescending of the commission to characterize anyone’s objection,” Nolan said. “No one knows what will happen in two, three or five years regarding school districts or libraries ... I think they’re legitimate concerns.”

Central to the commission’s decision was the basic need to maintain standard sizes of council districts because the 2000 Census showed western Queens’ population having grown far more rapidly than that of Brooklyn. Somewhere a council district had to cross the Queens-Brooklyn border, and the Ridgewood-Bushwick junction simply made the most sense, the commission concluded.

“The way the lines are currently drawn brings together a community that is similar on many levels — economically, educationa­lly,” said Richard Wager, a spokesman for the commission. “Those are people that shop in the same places, go to the same service providers.”

The boundary also brings the largely Hispanic population of southern Ridgewood into Reyna’s Hispanic-majority district, the commission said.

Meanwhile, passions continued to burn on high even after the commission passed its draft on to the Council, which must submit its comments by early January before more public hearings are held and the U.S. Justice Department reviews the final plans.

An anonymous flier sharply criticizing Nolan’s fight against the new council lines was sent to the TimesLedger offices last Thursday with a forged return address on the envelope listing Nolan’s office location below the misspelled name of Karl Wilhelm, one of her allies.

Wilhelm, an officer with the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association, said he did not send it himself and had no idea who could have. The envelope was postmarked in Brooklyn.

“We lost, and yet they still want to go in the gutter with anonymous letters,” Nolan said. “It just says to me how wrong- headed the whole thing is and how it’s not about neighborho­ods.”

The letter accused Nolan of following a double standard by fighting the division of Ridgewood’s council districts after allowing part of the neighborhood to be excised from her own assembly district last year and placed into Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio’s (D-Richmond Hill) district.

But Nolan said her opposition to the council lines stems from the Ridgewood’s split between two boroughs, not two representatives.

“I never made an issue of that. Why would I? It’s still Queens,” she said of the assembly lines. “Also, a city council district is completely different because it’s really the local unit.”

For her part, Reyna spoke at the Districting Commission’s Manhattan public hearing in early December to defend her record bringing significant improvements to Bushwick.

“If I do represent Ridgewood in the future, it should go without saying I’ll work just as hard for this area as I have for every other area in my district,” Reyna said.

Other Ridgewood residents also backed the new lines at the Manhattan hearing.

“This year we have an opportunity to unite these populations, joining groups of mutual interests and ensuring that all Latinos are represented in the City Council,” said Zully Rolan, a housing advocate from Ridgewood.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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