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Redrawn boro council lines account for population shift

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Rapid population growth in northwest Queens during the past 10 years has triggered a series of proposed changes to the boundary lines of the borough’s city council districts, which are being redrawn with data from the 2000 Census.

The most radical alteration calls for an area of Ridgewood to be taken away from City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) and attached to a Brooklyn district.

The proposed districts, which were released Oct. 23 by the New York City Districting Commission, were greeted with lukewarm approval and a measure of protest from borough council members who lamented the changes while acknowledging the need to adjust the lines.

The commission, which was established in June by the mayor and City Council, is responsible for redrawing the lines to account for the shifts in population recorded in the latest census, to ensure each member of the council represents roughly the same number of people. The ideal size for each of the city’s 51 council districts was set at 157,025 residents — a figure reached by dividing the city’s total population by the total number of districts.

The districts will be revised based on input gathered during public hearings during the next month before they are submitted to the City Council for comment in December and ultimately sent to the federal Justice Department for approval.

The movement of the southern part of Ridgewood from Gallagher’s 30th Council District into the 34th District represented by Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Brooklyn) came in reaction to differences in the two borough’s growth rates: the population of Queens grew more rapidly than that of Brooklyn.

But the new lines also reflect the perception that Ridgewood is actually part of the same community as Bushwick, the adjacent neighborhood that sits on the other side of the Brooklyn border.

“If you cross over that area, testimony said basically that it is very difficult to even notice that you were even changing neighborhoods anyhow,” said Richard Wager, the spokesman for the Districting Commission, citing testimony presented at the borough’s Sept. 24 public hearing.

Still, Gallagher promised to fight the proposed change because it splinters a Queens community.

“I believe that the Ridgewood section of Queens should be in a Queens council district,” Gallagher said.

Federal law mandates that the districts maintain the integrity of communities with a common interest, especially ensuring that the votes of minority groups are not diluted among multiple districts. The Ridgewood-Bushwick district would be unified by the large Hispanic community that lives on both sides of the border, Wager said.

Elsewhere in Queens, boundaries were adjusted to disperse the effects of population growth that was strongest in the northwest part of the borough.

Under existing boundaries, the population of City Councilman Hiram Monserrate’s (D-Corona) district is 16 percent above the ideal, while City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.’s (D-Astoria) district is 8 percent above it. In the new districts, the population cannot deviate more than 4 percent above the ideal and six percent below it, Wager said.

To relieve the burden on Monserrate’s district, some blocks would shift into the area represented by City Councilman Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights), who would gain pieces of Vallone’s district while losing part of hers to City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside).

Although Gallagher would lose part of his district to Brooklyn, he would gain sections of Maspeth from Gioia and City Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills).

Many of the districts in eastern Queens would remain largely intact, although City Councilman Leroy Comrie would lose a hook-shaped piece of his district that stretches oddly along the eastern edge of the region represented by Councilman James Sanders. Comrie said the residents of that area, which includes part of Rosedale, oppose the change.

“They like having me around,” he said. “There are always errors done in the first round.”

Likewise, City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) disputes the division of Mitchell Linden between his district and that of Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside).

“It’s a very strong neighborhood, it’s a very cohesive neighborhood,” he said. “It should be kept whole.”

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

Updated 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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