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Stavisky district lines act as Rorschach test

State Sen. Toby Stavisky stands on a crosswalk hovering above a portion of her district containing no constituents: the Cross Island Parkway. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

The Queens lawmaker who has one of the most clearly contorted boundary lines in the borough wants to take redistricting power out of the hands of politicians.

When state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) looks at her coverage area, she sees “a Rorschach test for troubled people.”

It is barely contiguous, which is required by the state. Between Clintonville and 148th streets in Whitestone, her district is actually just the Cross Island Parkway.

“If I walked the perimeter of my district, I would get hit by a car,” she said, standing on a crosswalk high above the thoroughfare.

Her constituents saw many things when asked to look at the lines defining her district.

Andrew Gurski, of Bay Terrace, thought it looked like a frog with “a leg problem.”

Gabby Federici thought the oddly shaped boundary resembled a dragon carrying something in its mouth.

Hassan Krayem thought it looked like an upside-down monster.

And Stavisky knows who created that monster.

The corridor-like portion of the district was drawn in 1992, before Stavisky took the seat, she said, by the state Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment. The parkway serves as an umbilical cord connecting the Democratic neighborhoods of Beechhurst and Bay Terrace to the main hub of her Democratic district in Flushing.

By connecting the two neighborhoods to the 16th District, the committee took them out of the neighboring district, which was then held by former Sen. Frank Padavan.

Padavan was a Republican, and since the neighborhoods in question typically vote Democratic, they would have hurt his chances for re-election, according to Stavisky, which is why they were removed. But the Democrats benefitted as well, since the addition of the neighborhoods made the 16th District a deeper hue of blue.

“It was wrong in 1992, and it’s wrong now,” she said.

The tentacles of her x-shaped district also encompass parts of Glen Oaks, Hillcrest, Fresh Meadows, Pomonok, Kew Gardens Hills, Oakland Gardens, Maspeth, Flushing, Rego Park, Forest Hills, East Elmhurst and oddly, the power plants north of Astoria.

Stavisky is one many lawmakers calling for redistricting to be done by an independent body, since in the past lines have been shifted to keep incumbents on both sides of the aisle in office, she said.

The task force is currently made up of politicians in both houses as well as non-politicians. With the Republicans enjoying a majority in the Senate and the Democrats a majority in the state Assembly, the dominate parties draw the lines to keep themselves in power, Stavisky said.

Then, according to a longstanding, unspoken agreement, each house approves the other’s plan.

But that agreement might be missing a key party this year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said repeatedly that he will veto any lines not drawn up by an independent redistricting committee.

The lawmakers on the task force balked at that suggestion, saying there is not enough time, but Stavisky disagreed.

Stavisky said districts should follow a guideline she calls “The Three C’s.”

“You’ve got to have districts that are compact, contiguous and there should be a common thread,” she said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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