Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

The city Districting Commission held its third round of public hearings in Queens Monday night, and two Queens neighborhoods were the subject of a verbal tug of war.

The commission is in charge of redrawing the city’s legislative districts to account for population change registered every 10 years in the U.S. census.

The lines were first completed in November and sent to the City Council for review, but the appointed body of 15 members were informed by the city Law Department that an additional round of public hearings was possible. This revelation occurred around the same time public outcry rose over seemingly gerrymandered districts.

On Monday night, one of the main points of contention came from groups like the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy, which wanted Bayside Hills and portions of Oakland Gardens to be included in the same district as Bayside because the two areas consider themselves as one.

James Hong, who spoke on behalf of the coalition, said the split was the commission’s most egregious error. About 100 people attended the meeting.

Though shortly afterward, Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), who represents Bayside, said just the opposite.

The councilman went on to criticize the creation of an Asian or other ethnic majority district, saying, “We do not have proposals to create an Irish district, an Italian district, a Greek district, a district of green-eyed people or a district of left-handed people.”

The councilman said the Voting Rights Act intention was not to create districts based purely on race.

But a representative from the Asian American Legal Defense Fund said that African-American, Latino and Asian minority groups are protected under the Voting Rights Act and used Halloran’s 2009 race for his Council seat as a reason why he said racial and minority groups should be kept intact.

Jerry Vattamala, a staff attorney at the fund, said the charter specifically directs the commission to consider fair and effective representation of the groups protected by the act above keeping neighborhoods and groups with common interests intact.

Vattamala referred to what he called a “racially charged” race against Korean-American Democrat Kevin Kim as why he believed keeping the Asian population of Bayside together was needed.

Vattamala also encouraged the commission to expand the district of Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) westward to Woodhaven Boulevard to include more of Richmond Hill, a South Asian neighborhood that has historically been hacked into numerous districts.

But that did not sit well with Bishop Charles Norris, who spoke on behalf of the black community already in Wills’ district.

“Putting half of the residents of Richmond Hill in [Wills’ district] is a sure way to guarantee that the ‘others’ will not be represented — the blacks, most certainly won’t be represented,” he said.

At other points in the meeting, urban planner Paul Graziano; Henry Euler, a leader of the Auburndale Improvement Association; and Halloran all testified that single-family homes in the neighborhoods of Broadway-Flushing, North Flushing and Station Road should be put into the councilman’s district, while the higher density neighborhood of Mitchell-Linden should be put entirely into the district of Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing).

Their requests were in line with a map drawn up by the Queens Civic Congress.

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

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