Asian Advocacy Group Says State’s New District Maps Unfairly Divide Communities


Yesterday, the state — after a fair amount of delay and confusion — finally released map proposals for new district lines in New York, based on Census data.

We heard from one angry pol yesterday, predictably mad at the political motivations that often drive the process. He’s not the only frustrated elected — and there’s been a lot of talk today about what the next step might be for those who are upset with the process or product of redistricting.

But for some of the civic groups who have been vocal advocates on the issue, it’s not really about the politics — it’s just about the lines.

Runnin’ Scared caught up with an attorney from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) this morning to hear his take on the new lines. His group — part of a coalition that also includes LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the National Institute for Latino Policy, and the Center for Law and Social Justice of Medgar Evers College — has released its own map recommendations for New York City. The coalition is focused on keeping communities of interest together by getting rid of disjointed districts that divide groups and dilute their voting power.

Which basically did not happen with the new maps, Jerry Vattamala, a staff attorney with AALDEF told us today.

The group — which has even gone so far as to sue state officials on redistricting — is releasing a full analysis next week, but had several immediate concerns with the maps.

Under the state’s proposal, there is one Asian-American majority State Senate district, which includes Flushing — a move that the group sees as a step in the right direction from the current maps which have no such district. (In Queens, the number of Asian Americans has skyrocketed 300 times faster than the rest of the borough’s population over the last ten years).

These advocates have their eyes on SD 16 — take a look, it does appear a bit wonky (Gov. Cuomo, who has made a push for independent redistricting and has said he would veto the lines, said today that the politics behind the maps are pretty obvious at first glance).

“It’s centered in Flushing, which we asked for, but that’s about it,” Vattamala said. “Part of it goes into Bayside. Part of it goes into Elmhurst…It doesn’t keep compact communities together.”

Basically, he said, it just doesn’t make geographic sense.

“People with shared concerns and interests should be in the same district…Our whole goal here was to obtain the opportunity for Asian Americans to have meaningful representation in New York state. Currently, they don’t,” he said. (Check out the group’s Unity Map to see its recommendations).

Runnin’ Scared asked him to describe how this district actually would look under this proposal, and Vattamala discussed the ways in which it’s rather odd — “It goes vertically in Flushing..then there’s a crane going into a line opening up into a circle in Bay Terrace…At the base, it sort of shoots out horizontally left and right.”

Simply put, “It’s very spread out,” he said.

For the State Assembly map, the group was glad to see the proposal increase the number of Asian American majority districts from one to three — but was disappointed that the South Asian community in Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park remained divided.

Ultimately, this isn’t even about giving Asian-American voters the strongest voting power — it’s just about leveling the playing field, he said, given how divided these communities have been historically.

“This is not maximizing Asian-American voting strength,” he said. “This is equalizing it.”