AALDEF and Civil Rights Groups Present “Unity Map” for Redistricting New York City
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, National Institute for Latino Policy (NILP), and the Center for Law and Social Justice (CLSJ) of Medgar Evers College have released the Unity Map, a joint proposal for new State Assembly and State Senate districts in New York City that reflects its changing demographics and protects the voting rights of Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans. “Each of these groups — Asian Americans, Latinos, and Blacks — has a history of being underrepresented and has endured a long string of voting rights violations,” said Esmeralda Simmons, Executive Director of CLSJ. “Out of common respect, we have joined together and have created maps for the common good.”
How the New Districts Were Proposed
All four organizations agreed on an overarching set of criteria in drafting the Unity Map.
- Adhering to the “One Person-One Vote” requirement of the U. S. Constitution by maintaining a nearly uniform legal level of deviation for all the districts.
- Following the Voting Rights Act to ensure that New York City’s “racial minority” populations have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.
- Protecting “communities of interest,” or groups of people that share common socioeconomic characteristics, languages, and cultures.
- Preserving both traditional and emerging neighborhoods.
What the Unity Map Accomplishes
In the past decade, Asian Americans were among the fastest growing racial minority groups in New York City. Nonetheless, they remain one of the most underrepresented politically. There are no Asian American representatives in the State Senate and only one in the State Assembly. This incongruity results from the fact that large Asian American communities are severely split among different districts. For example, the Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park community is divided among six assembly districts.
“Given the rapid Asian American population growth over the last decade, new legislative districts must be drawn to enable our community to participate effectively in the political process,” said AALDEF Executive Director Margaret Fung. “Our goal of keeping ‘communities of interest’ together is of particular importance to Asian Americans. We want to ensure that Asian Americans in New York City will not lose their political voice because they are kept apart by district lines.”
By keeping such communities of interest together, the Unity Map achieves four Asian American majority State Assembly districts, and one majority Asian American State Senate district in the neighborhood of Flushing/Bayside.
Latinos constituted 27.5% of the total population in New York City, according to the 2010 Census. “New York City is home to an incredible diversity of Latino elected officials of Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Ecuadoran lineage,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “But at the same time its Latino communities are embedded within contorted district lines that were fashioned long ago to protect non-Latino incumbents – some of whom have not been consistently responsive to the community’s needs.”
Under the Unity Map, there will be sixteen Latino majority State Assembly districts rather than the current thirteen, and seven majority State Senate districts rather than the current five. “Latinos can gain additional opportunities to elect candidates of their choice without unnecessarily infringing upon the rights of other protected groups,” said Cartagena. “This plan for NY State Senate and Assembly strives to do just that – and for the betterment of all New Yorkers.”
The Unity Map also preserves the number of Black districts in the State Assembly and State Senate while simultaneously expanding the number of districts in Asian American and Latino American communities, in accordance with their population growth.
“The districts that we have drawn are meaningful for Black communities – they give Black communities the ability to elect the candidates of their choice,” said Simmons. “In addition, we have not split communities when the population size of a community is too small to justify a separate district. Thus, we have protected vulnerable ‘communities of interest.‘”
The Upcoming Vote
Our groups are taking action by using this once-in-a-decade opportunity to redraw district lines. To that end, AALDEF, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, NILP, and CLSJ have submitted the Unity Map to the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), which is conducting public hearings before presenting its proposed maps to the New York State Legislature and the Governor. “These lines show the New York State Legislature and the governor what is possible to create during 2011 redistricting if they strive to protect the voting rights of Blacks, Latinos, and Asians Americans,” said Simmons.
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