Even More Thoughts About The Council Reapportionment (Part One)
My recent piece on how City Council redistricting is playing out in Hasidic Williamsburg, follow-up items in the Gateway and my recent comments on a Lincoln Restler Facebook post have led to a series of nasty emails, Facebook messages, thread posts and angry personal confrontations in which I’ve been accused of being a shill for the ultra-Orthodox Zali Satmar Hasidic Jewish community and/or Vito Lopez and/or Councilman Stephen Levin.
I respectfully demur.
Let’s start with the fact that my last full-length piece was essentially the act of me dancing upon the grave of a fairly revered Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi.
In particular, consider the fact that I may have been the first political commentator in the City to urge the Health Department to adopt a policy of requiring informed consent for the circumcision practice known as metzitzah b’peh and have been (without commenting on the constitutionality) outspoken in supporting the Mayor’s adoption of this policy, which is opposed by virtually the entire ultra-Orthodox community, including the Zali Satmar Hasidim.
Further, I have a long history of harsh posts about Vito Lopez, so much so that he believes that I hate his guts. I’ve also given Mr. Levin a slap or twelve from time to time.
So I come to the topic of the Council redistricting with no agenda but the ones I’ve had pretty consistently throughout the redistricting processes for the State Legislative and Congressional Districts.
What is that agenda?
First and foremost, that a redistricting roughly allow communities of interest to have their interests reflected by their representatives to the greatest extent possible.
District based representation, like all other forms is imperfect, and can never be free of politics in its implementation.
This is especially true at the Congressional level where
(1) New York State is allocating loss, and (2) we face a national map where many other States feature the majority party in the legislature taking outrageous partisan measures when drawing districts.
I might advocate such measures myself, but for the fact that legislative partisan gridlock in NYS made them impossible.
But I oppose blatantly partisan redistricting at the State and local level. Some might feel this is not good liberal politics, but, in fact, the failure of the State Senate Democrats to pass a redistricting reform proposal when they held the majority is among the prime reasons they hold a minority today.
The Sen Dems so salivated for their post-reapportionment banquet that they forgot that they might end up on the menu themselves.
Because the primacy of identity politics in New York State is so intense, fair redistricting begins, first and foremost, by ensuring that racial minorities are not packed or cracked to minimize their numbers.
Once Minority rights are ensured, everyone else can be taken care of as well, as best as possible.
This means different things at different levels.
New York State is 15.9% black, 17.6% Latino and 7.3% Asian, but in the City, those numbers are 22.8% black, 28.6% Latino and 12.8% Asian.
That means that the City, which accounts for less than 40% of the State's population, must bear most of the brunt for ensuring that the State’s minority populations get fair representation. Further, at the Congressional level, the City must bear virtually all of it.
This means that Brooklyn, where whites are still the largest racial group by a small margin, contains not one majority Brooklyn district represented by a person of colorlessness.
Whites outnumber Latinos as a portion of Brooklyn’s population by 34.7% to 19.8%, yet there is a majority Brooklyn Latino Congressional district, and there is no majority Brooklyn Congressional district represented by a white person.
That’s because if there isn’t a majority Brooklyn Latino district, there wouldn’t be a second district in NYS represented by Latinos.
That’s a political choice I can live with.
But at the City Council level, where partisanship is a
virtually negligible factor, and there are many more seats to go around (and more legal flexibility to make them go around) it is possible to ensure that the seats are allocated in a way that better reflects the composition of each borough’s population so that every group, if not given a seat of their own, at least gets a better opportunity to have its portion of the population translated to some influence.
And, if one tries, one can usually do it without grotesque gerrymandering.
In doing this, other consideration comes into play,
including keeping together other types of communities of interest, including generally recognized neighborhoods. It means trying to respect, when possible, borders like Community board lines, which usually, BUT NOT ALWAYS, denote where communities change.
This is why no one objects that the 35th Councilmanic (currently represented by Tish James) contains a Community Board Six's tiny portion of Prospect Heights (thereby also splitting a precinct), because everyone understand that the Community Board line is an anomaly (necessitated to keep a Precinct house it the Community Board district it serves) and that the reality of an actual community of interest should instead be allowed to prevail.
It is an imperfect process. Sometimes one important consideration must defer to another one. One could, for not political reasons, decide to divide Chinese Americans in Brooklyn or Manhattan, or Hasidim in Brooklyn, by using Community Board lines as an excuse, but that is all it would be. The communities in all these instances, and others, have outgrown their official borders.
Sometimes there is a dispute within a group whether their influence is better protected by concentration in one seat, or being spread through several.
And sometimes it is impossible to give one group all it desires and also do that with another group with an equally compelling case for representation.
This is currently the case in the battle between Orthodox Jews and Russians in the Greater Sheepshead Bay/Midwood area. While both groups can be ensured of the creation of at least one district where they are possible or probable victors, it is hard to see how each of these communities can both have two seats, while accommodating the legitimate requests of other communities as well.
Despite the ludicrous assertions of conspiracy by the likes of Gary Tilzer (which Orthodox Pundit does a pretty good job of documenting) you probably can’t give both those communities everything they want without disenfranchising someone else (though I must note that the Orthodox community of East Midwood seems to have been marginalized beyond any rational need to do so in the current map).
This is all prelude to my talking about Williamsburg one more time, which, after seven pages of intro, I will save for part two, suffice it to say that most of the piece will consist of a discussion of the disgraceful conduct of people who pretend to be civil rights liberals espousing tolerance, but who have revealed themselves to be bigots who have no compunction publicly expressing their view that people who wear black hats are tantamount to human garbage.
This includes the Executive Director of one civic group, who publicly lobbed a series of factually inaccurate assertions about the voting behavior of Hasidim which included a false accusation of racism (at approximately 34:35) which might be better deployed if she were looking in a mirror (although, in fairness, she is probably just reading words someone else wrote for her to parrot).
In part two, I will explain why I say this.
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