By Tenzin Shakya for Northattan
New proposed lines split Manhattan Valley among three districts – 7, 8 and 9 – and many residents are unhappy, saying it divides their longstanding community and threatens minority representation.
“Our little piece of Manhattan, Manhattan Valley, succeeded in curtailing high-rise development,” Blanca Vasquez, a resident of Manhattan Valley for more than 30 years, said. “And now we get lines that destroy us.”
Despite the grievances, the commission will submit the proposed map to the City Council for final voting.
“There was a challenge trying to keep Manhattan Valley together into one,” said Carl Hum, the executive director of the districting commission, at the last public meeting on Nov. 15. “While we tried to put it into two districts, it really became difficult. Unfortunately, the way that the geography works, and the population concentration, won’t allow us to have Manhattan Valley in a single district.”
Representatives of other affected communities argued that the process of redistricting is actually fracturing communities and causing vote dilution, the division of racial or ethnic minorities, which reduces their chances of influencing legislation at large.
“Redistricting, and the district lines that come out of redistricting is what sets a stage for our local democracy,” James Hong, from the Asian American Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy, said. “Whether democracy works for communities that are local, especially ethnic communities, and whether the democratic system works for them and can represent them, is determined by district lines.”
At a public hearing last month, some community representatives raised concerns over Manhattan Valley’s being split up into three districts. Locals reminded officials of the past challenges they’ve faced in an attempt to keep the community together.
“Manhattan Valley has struggled for many years as a primarily minority immigrant neighborhood from the time that my grandmother came in 1911 from Ireland,” Gloria Kerstein, president of the Duke Ellington Boulevard Neighborhood Association in Manhattan Valley, said. “To break the spine of Manhattan Valley does not address the struggle that we had to bring our neighborhood out of crack, make it a safe and good neighborhood.”
Some critics proposed an alternative map, the Unity Map, which they said, “reflects New York City’s changing demographics and protects the voting rights of Blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans.”
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, representing District 8, advocated for the Unity Map. She said, “I urge the Commission to use the Unity Map as a basis for reconfiguring Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, as a way of preserving communities of interest, and minimizing the splitting up of our city’s neighborhoods.”
East Harlem resident Elsie Encarnacion said, “Looking at the map I see broken-up community after broken-up community with High Bridge being cut into three council districts, East Harlem divided by two, Manhattan Valley split into three and no one kept whole.” She said, “As commission members, you all have a responsibility to provide voters with fair and effective representation.”
The commission did adopt some of the proposed district lines from the Unity Map in what they said was an attempt to keep communities together. Inwood, for example, is now in a single district.