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Ridgewood activists continue redistrict fight

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As the city starts a final round of public hearings on what may be the last draft of the new city council lines, Ridgewood residents are pushing ahead undeterred in their quest to prevent part of the neighborhood from joining a predominantly Brooklyn district.

"We're trying to continue as if we were down by five with ten seconds to go and the other team has the ball," said Karl Wilhelm, a leader of the Coalition for a United Ridgewood. "We're still in it, still fighting."

The Districting Commission, which was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council to redraw the council district boundaries to account for 2000 census figures, voted last Thursday to approve the latest revision of the maps.

The draft, like all of the previous versions, cuts the southern part of Ridgewood out of City Councilman Dennis Gallagher's (R-Middle Village) 30th Council District and adds it to the 34th District represented by Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Williamsburg), which is now entirely in Brooklyn. The Ridgewood section would constitute about a third of Reyna's district, which also would include Bushwick and Williamsburg.

But a small piece of Maspeth that had been incorrectly added to Reyna's district in the previous draft was returned to its original spot in City Councilman Eric Gioia's (D-Woodside) district.

"That was a technical glitch, literally," said Richard Wager, the spokesman for the Districting Commission. "We redoubled our efforts to make sure that wouldn't happen again in this version."

The commission originally proposed the Brooklyn-Queens district to help distribute the past decade's population growth, which was much heavier in western Queens than in Brooklyn. The new district also follows the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by keeping together the minority community of Hispanics that crosses the Brooklyn border into Ridgewood, which is more than 60 percent Hispanic in the section slated to join Reyna's district.

But the new council lines have sparked a long and heated battle in Ridgewood. Hundreds of area residents showed up for the Districting Commission's November public hearing at Queens College to convince the board to keep all of Ridgewood in Gallagher's district, arguing that splitting the neighborhood would dilute its voice.

But the maps have gone through two rounds of revision since then - the latest one following a review by members of the City Council - which failed to produce any changes in response to the Ridgewood protests.

Still, the community has not given up the cause.

Some 500 people crowded the auditorium of JHS 93 at Forest Avenue and Madison Street last Thursday night for a town hall meeting organized by the Coalition for a United Ridgewood to educate people about the redistricting process.

The coalition is sending buses from eight locations in Ridgewood and Glendale to the Districting Commission's Queens public hearing, scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the York College Performing Arts Center Auditorium.

The current round of public hearings are meant to solicit input on the latest revisions to the plan, which must be submitted to the city Board of Elections by March 4, Wager said. A week later the maps will go to the U.S. Department of Justice for final approval.

Paul Kerzner, who chaired the meeting, said splitting Ridgewood between two districts means the neighborhood will lose its power as a voting block.

"The tail end of a district is always going to suffer by definition," Kerzner said. "If 70 percent of your district is in one county and 30 percent is in another, how are you going to apportion your money? Chances are if you're smart, you're going to put the resources where the votes are, which means the 30 percent is going to get the crumbs because you don't need them."

But Reyna responded with a pledge that she would offer comprehensive representation throughout her district and across county lines.

"I don't see percentages when I represent my district - I see human beings, people," Reyna said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Whether I represent Ridgewood in Queens or whether it's Bushwick in Brooklyn, it will always be evenly represented."

Reyna's chief of staff, Karl Camillucci, also pointed out that her new district would be evenly split between three neighborhoods - Ridgewood, Bushwick and Williamsburg.

"Even if Diana was the kind of person who made cold political calculations about how she's going to spend her resources, I don't know one politician who'd ignore 30 percent of her district," he said while stressing that Reyna does not base her decisions on politics.

Buses to attend the public hearing will leave at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, from the following locations:

Glenridge Senior Center: Forest Avenue at Summerfield Street.

JHS 93: Forest Avenue at Madison Street.

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal: 60th Place at Bleecker Street.

Sacred Heart: 78th Avenue between 83rd and 84th streets.

St. Aloysius: Onderdonk Avenue between Stockholm and Stanhope streets.

St. Brigid: St. Nicholas Avenue at Grove Street.

St. Matthias: Catalpa Avenue between Onderdonk and Forest avenues.

St. Pancras: 68th Street between Cooper and Myrtle avenues.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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