NY Redistricting: Untangling Boundaries and Adding a New Hispanic Majority District


New Yorkers may want to ensure that they have fair representation in our fine democratic system, but sometimes it can be difficult to get jazzed up about the nitty-gritty of mapmaking. But new technology available this redistricting cycle is making it easier for advocates and academics to get involved in the process and present actual map representations that have clout. While the politics of redistricting continue (Gov. Andrew Cuomo has continued campaigning for an independent redistricting committee and the GOP is trying to assert its influence with a new Senate seat), advocacy groups across the state have been producing their own maps and sending them to Albany for consideration.

Today, Runnin’ Scared caught up with an initiative called the NY Redistricting Project, which held a competition and released its map recommendations at Fordham University’s Manhattan campus. The maps were devised by students from across the state — and are of particular interest since they are entirely removed from the world of politics and interest groups with, well, specific interests. (A coalition of civil rights groups came out with a “Unity Map” last week focused on minority representation — also worth a look).

The student maps released today offer recommendations for lines throughout the state, but have some specific ideas for how New York City can be drawn in a fairer, more logical way.

The winning congressional map, from a group of University of Buffalo students, recommends a second Latino majority district in the city — which makes sense given that the Hispanic population is the fastest growing minority in the country and that New York is not an exception. This move would give Hispanic residents a stronger voting power in the Bronx (Districts 13 and 14 would both be majority Latino in the students’ map). The group preserved pre-existing African-American districts and also created an Asian plurality district in Flushing, Queens.

In general, the group’s recommendations seek to untangle boundaries throughout the state. In the city, the group revamped every congressional district to get rid of messy lines that divided communities and neighborhoods.

Look how much neater it is!

“Public input in the process is usually minimal,” Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham political science professor and director of the project, told Runnin’ Scared. “We have seen in this cycles a resurgence of interest in getting the public involved.”

Not just because we care, he said, but because it’s easier to care in 2012 with technology like DistrictBuilder, which the students in this project used.

“The public has never had the tools…to get involved in this process in any meaningful way as much as it does in this redistricting cycle,” he said. “It’s taking the process out of the hands of the legislature exclusively.”

Whether the state committee that handles redistricting will actually listen is yet to be determined, though in theory, it has been seeking feedback throughout the state with a set of public hearings since the summer. Regardless, this group of students is in fact sending off its map to Albany for review (Others have taken more drastic approaches to get their voices heard).

“You don’t want people to feel marginalized,” said Matt Burrows, a Buffalo Law student from the winning team. “We tried to make sure that certain groups that are distinct and want to have a sat will have a say.”

In other redistricting news — perhaps the most colorful to come out this month — the battle to keep communities united in Queens recently got support from rap group Das Racist. Himanshu “Heems” Suri grew up in Queens and wants to see that his borough is not hurt by gerrymandering.