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Once every 10 years, the jigsaw puzzle that contains legislative election district boundaries gets redefined — the result often more a mosaic than a portrait of the neighborhoods those districts represent.
This time around civic leaders in eastern Queens are saying they have learned the lessons from past battles and are planning to make their message loud and clear: The neighborhoods of Glen Oaks, Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Bellerose and Queens Village should be joined in one state Assembly district.
“What unites these neighborhoods is the fact that everyone sees themselves as united,” said Ali Najmi, 27, who has spent his entire life as a resident of Glen Oaks Village. “The civics work together; we go to each others’ meetings. We have a shared police precinct and shared school district.”
In the state Senate, the northern part of the borough along the Nassau County border is represented by one district: the 11th. But when it comes to the Assembly, Districts 24, 26 and 33 divide the area among three Assembly members.
“Anytime you’re not united, anytime you’re chopped up among districts, it dilutes your power to vote together,” Najmi said. “Legislators serve the hearts of their districts. This area is not in the heart of any Assembly district.”
More than 10 civic groups have joined together under the banner Eastern Queens United, which is demanding that the state Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment unite the neighborhoods in a single Assembly district when it makes its recommendations on district lines to the state Legislature early next year. The group also seeks to resolve the division of the neighborhood between the 5th and 6th congressional districts.
“I think previously the community was not really aware of the process. Redistricting is a super insider game,” Najmi said. “We want to make people aware of what redistricting is and why it is important.”
Najmi said that in the past, the community was not made aware of the redistricting process.
“Ten years ago this community was the path of least resistance,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves what we are going to do differently than in years past.”
Eastern Queens United is planning to organize a town hall meeting and public rally in January and will call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to veto any proposal that divides the neighborhoods.
Although gerrymandered districts are drawn to suit political agendas, the group insists its motives are apolitical.
“We must make sure that our communities are not divided for political purposes,” Glen Oaks Village President Bob Friedrich wrote in a statement. “This issue is not about endorsing any candidate or political party.”
“Our objective is to make sure that whoever is elected to represent our community understands that our concerns are backed up by tens of thousands of voters,” he wrote. “We will not accept district lines that slice and dice us as if we are on some legislative committee’s chopping block.”
City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), whose district represents the entire area, used to hold the 24th District Assembly seat. He said he agrees the state should focus on trying to unify communities.
“It keeps neighborhoods strong and united. I’m glad local people are trying to get that done in Queens,” he said.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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