By Xiaoran Liu and Stuart Sia for Northattan
District 9 could be in for a drastic change. New proposed maps result in the district’s losing Morningside Heights and gaining parts of Manhattan Valley and Manhattanville. For Councilwoman Inez Dickens, who currently represents District 9 and who proposed the Upper Manhattan Empowerment District Plan (the UMED Plan), this is a half-success.
“We know that districting will affect the future of our communities for the next decade,” Dickens said at the second public hearing on Oct. 4. She called the UMED plan “simple, balanced and fair,” because it excluded Morningside Heights from District 9 and included parts of Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights, in contrast to the preliminary map.
“I agree Amsterdam Avenue above 125th Street to be the important boundary between District 7 and 9, as it sort of separates neighborhoods,” Mary Goldstein, who has lived between Amsterdam Avenue and Convent Avenue for about 30 years, said. “I preferred to be with the district of Central Harlem, rather than the west side of Amsterdam, as I feel close.”The revised plan adopted part of the UMED plan. One example is Amsterdam Avenue between 130th and 141th streets, which would become the boundary of District 7 and 9.
Both the revised plan and the UMED plan include the area where Goldstein lives in District 9 with Central Harlem, which is a change from the current district map.
“The UMED plan is to preserve the historical Central Harlem, the traditional district of African-Americans,” said Lermond Mayes, the chief staff of District 9 legislative office, who worked with Dickens on the UMED plan. “Our goal is to keep those lines as they were.”
Carl Hum, executive director of the commission, said at the second round of public hearings that the UMED plan “would, essentially, extend the western boundaries of District 9 to Amsterdam Avenue. Of course, this creates a larger district with regard to District 9, but all in the name of trying to create a coalition district of multiple ethnic groups within District 7.”
With demographics of the city ever evolving, the redrawing of lines to reflect population changes can intentionally or unintentionally bring up the uncomfortable discussion of racial and ethnic demarcation.
“It’s about ethnic groups, about the representations,” Mayes said. “Under UMED plan, District 7 accommodates Dominican voters; District 8 accommodates Puerto Rican voters and we accommodate African Americans.”
Now, under the revised plan, black voters will have the ability to elect candidates of their choice in District 9, according to a press release by the New York City Districting Commission.
The chairman of the districting commission, Benito Romano, said they heard residents’ concerns and believed the revised plan reflected much of what was shared with the commission.
For the UMED plan, another big success is that the ceding of Morningside Heights to District 7. Mayes said he has heard from residents by phone and email that “they want to be in District 7. It’s all about who represents them.”
Some residents in Morningside Heights said they want a united area. Kevin Abrams, who lives near Columbia University, said: “We are now split into three districts – 7, 8 and 9. By the preliminary draft map, we are still split in two districts.” He said he has been watching the redistricting process since August. “We want to have one representative for this area after all these years’ separation.”
Abrams said he was so happy that the revised plan finally heard residents’ voices and gave them a united Morningside Heights in District 7.
The ceding of Morningside Heights to District 7 simultaneously makes District 9 more black and District 7 more white. According to 2010 Census data, Morningside had 6,200 blacks and 36,000 whites.