Asian-American Advocacy Groups: New Congressional Maps Are Pretty Good


Asian Americans in New York City may actually have the voting power they deserve in Congress if the lines drawn this week by a judge become reality, advocates said today.

If you haven’t been following the redistricting drama closely, here’s what you need to know: Since state legislators, stuck in partisan disagreements over the course of 11 months, failed to draw proposals for congressional districts, a federal magistrate stepped into create districts for New York state. Earlier than expected, this so-called “special master” released those maps this week, giving interested parties a tight deadline to submit comments. The special master has until Monday to submit the plan to a panel of three judges.

This plan could actually be adopted, although the Legislature could also come together to pass its own map before the court’s process is complete — and with a signature from Governor Andrew Cuomo, that redistricting plan could go into effect.

So much uncertainty!

While pols across the city and state worry about who’s going to be able to campaign for what, a group of Asian-American civic groups, that have been advocating for months to keep communities of interest united in the redistricting process, say they are actually quite pleased with the court’s drawings.

Runnin’ Scared caught up with two of these advocates this morning to discuss their reactions to the plans.

In general, they were pleased that the Asian American community in Queens — in Flushing/Bayside and Elmhurst and Briarwood/Jamaica Hills — remained intact in one district. The proposal also keeps together Manhattan’s Chinatown with Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. In Jackson Heights and Woodside, where there is a high concentration of South Asian immigrants, a community of interest has been drawn as well, advocates said. Finally, a proposed district in Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park in Queens would also help increase voter strength of Asian Americans in the city.

Jerry Vattamala, a staff attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund — which has rallied behind its own recommendations in a “Unity Map” — said that this would finally be a fair plan (if it’s actually adopted).

“Now there’s an opportunity for these communities to elect a candidate of choice, which was not an option before,” he said, noting that Asian American groups have typically been splintered in congressional boundaries. “If this is final, we’d be very pleased…This is a good representation of what a fair nonpartisan map would like like.”

Vattamala noted that it’s only right that these communities have meaningful voting power, given the growth of this population over the last decade — over 500,000 Asian Americans live in Queens, and there are over one million citywide.

The priority, though, he said, has to be keeping these communities united — and not necessarily maximizing percentages, which can sometimes create illogical districts. “We’re looking at the communities and the neighborhoods and making sure they aren’t divided,” he said.

We also chatted this morning with James Hong, civic participation coordinator for MinKwon Center for Community Action, a Queens-based civic group. (He is also a spokesperson for the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy, a coalition of 13 organizations that has been advocating for fair redistricting).

In northeast Queens especially, he said, the time has come for the congressional lines to reflect the existing populations. “The proposal definitely acknowledges the Asian-American community that exists in northeast Queens much better than the current district lines,” he said. “This is definitely going to give us a stronger…voice at the congressional level, which is the highest level of government affected by redistricting.”

Still, given the uncertainty of Albany and the process on the whole, he’s remaining cautiously optimistic, he said.

“Anything could happen in the next few weeks,” he said. “It’s not over until it’s over.”

In other Queens redistricting news, one local pol thinks the lines are as bad as Jersey Shore. Yup.

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