Restler Is Wrong About Redistricting

When it comes to the likely Steve Levin v. Lincoln Restler contest for City Council, I’ve got no dog in the fight. In fact, the one thing these guys probably agree upon is they don’t want me in their district.

And yet my block is one of the very few in Carroll Gardens that is there. I suspect that Brad Lander wants me even less.

So, it is not because I prefer Steve Levin that I have to take his side in the loud whine Lincoln Restler is making about the District’s lines.

Restler’s complaint is over two issues. The first is that some Hasidim were moved into the district; the second is that some Brownstone areas were moved out.

He is wrong in both cases.

The first complaint is that a number of blocks from northern Bed-Stuy, as well as a few from the Clinton Hill/Wallabout area have been moved into the district—almost all of them from the district of Tish James.

It’s been a very present worry in the black political community that Ms. James’ 35th Councilmanic District, centered around Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights, all of which are mixed neighborhood with growing white populations, will sometime in the next decade cease having minority representation.

During the last decade several areas of this district which were previously un-or under-occupied have seen new construction overwhelmingly occupied by whites. In the course of the redistricting, several newly white areas of this sort, both in Downtown Brooklyn and Bed-Stuy, were moved from District 35 into Mr. Levin’s district instead. This served to boost the black percentage in the 35th and reduce its white percentage.

The Bed-Stuy changes further served to unite the Williamsburg Hasidic community. Yes, community board lines were crossed in what were once distinct neighborhoods, but this is not unprecedented.

Chinatowns aren’t defined by traditional neighborhood lines. They are defined by where Chinese people live. As the population moves, the borders change. No one could with a straight face say one should divide Brooklyn’s 8th Avenue Chinatown into multiple districts because a community board line is crossed. What may once have been Sunset Park, Borough Park and Bay Ridge is now one distinct neighborhood.

Hasidic Williamsburg has similarly expanded. The Hasidic areas south of Flushing Avenue are part of the same neighborhood as those to the north. Further, contrary to Mr. Restler, the proposed map is not engaged here in “ripping up neighborhoods,” rather the map is engaged in acknowledging the existence of a neighborhood which previously had different boundaries.

And in fact, the damage to the old Bed-Stuy order is extremely limited, as these areas were previously mostly lightly populated industrial turf.

The Hasidim have no special entitlement not to be divided. Some coherent communities in some places are going to be divided in any reapportionment.

But the idea that some moral imperative is served by their division is nonsense.

It is especially distressing that "good government" types have bought into this assertion.

Packing Hasidim into the district seems to be counter to the trend of the area, which is towards greater diversity,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.

This is an abject distortion of the truth. With the exception of Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens at the district's south end, everything in it outside of the Hasidic area is geting richer, whiter and more similar. Expanding the number of Hasidim doesn't make the district less diverse, it makes it more so. 

Common Cause should be ashamed of itself for buying into such malarkey. It makes one almost suspect they were talked into this statement over a game of squash at the Heights Casino with the right sort of people.      

Further, the idea that any cognizable interest of justice is being hurt by this is a blatant falsehood.

The entire Greenpoint/Williamsburg community, with its large expansion of Yuppie/Hipster votes has not been altered in this plan by one single block.

How has anyone been hurt by that?

The Fort Greene/Clinton Hill political class is probably breathing a sigh of relief over the exit of Hasidim from the 35th. The adjoining Bed-Stuy based 36th District currently represented by Al Vann might be able to absorb several thousand Hasids without major political pain, but no one there is enthusiastic about that prospect.

There is one other nearby district which could conceivably absorb these Hasidim. Moreover, at least some of the local elected officials from that area would probably welcome this move.

I speak of the 34th Councilmanic District, currently represented by Diana Reyna. Surely Vito Lopez would love to absorb these voters.

Is this what Mr. Restler is advocating?

Apparently, because one of the things infuriating Restler was that the while initial draft of the plan moved the Broadway Triangle development zone, soon to be filled with Hasidim, out of Levin’s district; the revised plan moved the area back. Moving the Triangle out would have benefited Restler’s interests, but it would also have benefitted Lopez’s.

Restler has been going nuts about the movement of Lopez’s phony address into a different Council District (even though the failure to do so would not stop him from running there), but had no objection to a change which was far more substantive in benefitting Lopez, except to whine when it was rescinded.

Further, the Daily News reports that Restler is unhappy that the district has lost all its Park Slope turf.

For decades, the Slope has been divided into two or three Council Districts, much to the consternation of its civic leadership. In the proposed plan, almost the entire Slope, except a few blocks with a high Latino population at its deep south end, are at last in one district.

It is exactly the sort of change that good government types are always advocating.

Yet in this case, they appear to be complaining, as if uniting a 50,000 person community of interest was somehow an example of what Restler calls “ripping up communities for political gain.”

Despite the cries of Restler and his supporters, there is nothing objectionable about uniting the Greater Williamsburg Hasidic community into one district. And the unification of almost all of Park Slope into one Council District is a positive good. 

There may be good reasons for rejecting this redistricting plan. If so, then giving a largely symbolic slap to Vito Lopez during the course of making some substantive corrections is surely not a bad thing.

However, let me be clear; whatever the wrongs in this plan, uniting Hasidic Williamsburg and uniting Park Slope are not amongst them.