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Final Council lines spur outrage

TimesLedger Newspapers

Groups in northeast Queens blasted the final draft of new City Council lines that were approved Wednesday night..

The New York City Districting Commission, an appointed, 15-member body of non-sitting politicians, is required to redraw the city’s political boundaries every decade in response to population changes identified in the U.S. census. The process is typically controversial, and this time around was no exception.

The commission voted to approve the lines, which now move to the City Council for consideration. If the Council does not object, the lines move on to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Queens activists and civic associations were upset and dumbfounded about two specific areas Tuesday when the commission released its final draft of the new lines ahead of the vote.

Just north of downtown Flushing lies the border between areas represented by Councilmen Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone). The Northeast Flushing Civic Association, the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association and the Queens Civic Congress, along with Koo and Halloran, had united over a plan to fairly divide the two districts along neighborhood lines, keeping low-density housing in Halloran’s domain and high density housing in Koo’s.

The coalition formed in response to a draft map released by the commission that put some high density co-ops into Halloran’s district and a section of single-family homes into Koo’s. The ensuing outrage was so great that the executive director of the commission made a motion to correct what he called a mistake, and stuck the co-ops back in Koo’s district.

But the final maps did not follow the coalition’s recommendations and drew a significant chunk of low-density blocks in north Flushing into Koo’s district, a move that had not been reflected in any of the commission’s previous drafts.

Halloran called the lines a compromise, noting that Broadway, Flushing and Auburndale were largely kept together in his district.

But Paul Graziano, an urban planner who lives in North Flushing, used software on the commission’s website to show the lines could have easily followed the lawmakers’ suggestion while making sure the districts had the correct populations.

Another hotspot in the districting debate was Bayside Hills and Oakland Gardens. Activist groups representing Asian Americans in the city contended that the residents identified themselves as Baysiders and should be moved from the district of Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) to that of Halloran, which the commission did not do.

“Bayside remains divided despite overwhelming public testimony that Bayside should be united in [Halloran’s district],” said the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “The portion of Bayside that was removed from [Halloran’s district] and added to [Weprin’s district] contains a substantial number of Asian-American voters.”

The fund and other groups like the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy contend that the increasing population of Asian Americans in Bayside and the two neighborhoods in question meant that they should have been kept together as a community of interest.

Former state Sen. Frank Padavan has argued at one hearing that the two neighborhoods should stay in Weprin’s district.

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

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