Ridgewood makes last pitch to stay in Queens

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A crowd of Ridgewood residents made a final plea to preserve their neighborhood in a single city council district Tuesday night at the last public hearing scheduled in Queens before the city Districting Commission submits the new boundaries for federal approval.

In what shaped up as a reprise of the last borough hearing held at Queens College in November, hundreds of people waved signs and shouted their opposition to a proposal that would remove the southern part of Ridgewood from Councilman Dennis Gallagher's (R-Middle Village) 30th District and add it to the 34th District represented by Diana Reyna (D-Williamsburg), which now lies exclusively in Brooklyn.

But a handful of people also stood to voice their support for the plan, citing the common interests Ridgewood residents share with those in Bushwick, the adjacent neighborhood in Brooklyn.

The Districting Commission, which was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council to redraw the city council district boundaries to account for 2000 census figures, is slated to approve a final plan Feb. 26. It will then be forwarded in March to the city Board of Elections and the U.S. Department of Justice, which must approve the new lines.

The hearing, held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at York College, went forward as scheduled despite transportation problems caused by a blizzard that blanketed the city only one day earlier.

Although the weather failed to dampen the spirit of the Ridgewood contingent, only three buses out of 10 scheduled to carry local residents to the hearing actually made it. The other seven never showed at the designated pick-up locations in Ridgewood because of the snow.

Many were surprised the Districting Commission did not postpone the hearing.

"I think they're trying to get this wrapped up and didn't want to drag it out," said Karl Wilhelm, a leader of the Coalition for a United Ridgewood, a community group that organized the buses. "I wish they could have waited another week."

Ridgewood activists entreated the members of the Districting Commission not to approve a plan they contended was shaped by Brooklyn politicians seeking to expand their influence.

"Despite the fact that an overwhelming number of residents want to keep their neighborhood whole, a political charade is in place," said Peter Comber, the president of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association. "The plan protects nobody but the politicians who intend to keep their seats safe."

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 a strong force of Hispanic Ridgewood residents also stood to denounce the plan, insisting they did not want to be grouped by ethnicity out of their current district.

"They will use our share of money for the problems that they currently have," said Luis Hernandez of Ridgewood in reference to the politicians representing Brooklyn. "You should have solved this problem [of Queens' rapid population growth] by creating new seats in Queens."

"This is the United States of America, not the Divided States of America," said Consuelo Vuolo of Ridgewood. "We are a strong hard-working community and all you're doing is trying to divide us."

But a number of people also defended the new boundaries while claiming the United Ridgewood movement was spreading misleading information.

Tom Napolitano, 52, a Ridgewood resident who is controller of El Regreso, a drug treatment program in Williamsburg, commended the Districting Commission for sticking with its proposal.

"The plan for District 34 makes sense because it joins communities of interest irrespective of the boroughs they live in," he said.

Ridgewood residents opposed to the new lines expressed their displeasure for the proposal's supporters the loudest way they could: They booed.

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

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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