Johanna García, the director of Budget and Legislative Affairs for Councilmember Jackson, called on residents to submit their own maps.
The loss of a northern Manhattan Councilmember could equal a loss of funding for Inwood and Washington Heights.
That was the message delivered at an information session on the City Council redistricting process currently underway.
At the meeting held this past Wed., Sept. 19th at the K'hal Adath Jeshuran Moriah Luncheon Club, New York City Councilmember Robert Jackson and his staff outlined the changes proposed by the New York City Districting Commission.
The commission recently released a set of preliminary maps changing the shape of northern Manhattan’s City Council representation.
Currently, the area has two council districts, roughly divided along Broadway.
Councilmember Jackson of Council District 7 represents the western half of Upper Manhattan. The eastern half is District 10, represented by Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez.
The proposed map puts District 7 on the east side of Broadway and pushes its northern border south to the George Washington Bridge. District 10, which must be redrawn to gain population, would encompass all of Inwood and much of Washington Heights, essentially making Councilmember Rodríguez the sole councilmember for most of northern Manhattan. He did not attend the meeting.
It is important to remember, Johanna García said, that the maps are preliminary and will likely change based on input from citizens, community groups, elected officials and other organizations.
García, the director of Budget and Legislative Affairs for Councilmember Jackson, urged citizens to submit their own maps to the commission.
“The commission is made up of people – some of whom have never set foot in Northern Manhattan,” she said. “All they know is what we tell them.”
Community members present at the meeting said that the loss of a councilmember could dilute northern Manhattan’s political power.
Zead Ramadan, local businessman and volunteer with various community organizations, said a combined district means losing an extra voice in City Council.
Maria Luna, a longtime Democratic district leader, said the community should focus on uniting and making sure that the elected official brings in the necessary resources. “It is the quality of the elected official that we should be concerned about,” she said.
Councilmember Jackson said that was a valid point, but the information session was designed to inform the public of possible repercussions of redistricting. And while he originally had said that he was against any change in his district, on Wednesday evening he said his position was now “evolving.”
He said that since people from the 10th District moved across the river into the Bronx, the commission could instead include that area in the 10th District.
The New York City Charter only allows one district in Manhattan to span two boroughs. Currently District 9 represents both East Harlem and Mott Haven.
“As a result of that, the only place you can pick up is going west and going south,” Councilmember Jackson said.
Both Ramadan and Cheryl Pahaham, who is running for Councilmember Jackson’s seat, said the city charter should be changed to allow another district to cross into the Bronx.
Ramadan conceded it was unlikely the charter could be changed before the commission’s March 5th deadline.
But, he said, a citizen could sue the city and call for a stay to leave the districts as they are until the charter is changed to allow for another district to cross over into the Bronx.
“It makes sense sometimes,” Ramadan said. “Our assembly districts do that.”
Councilmember Jackson, García and Elizabeth Ritter from Sen. Adriano Espaillat’s office reiterated that the loss of representation could lead to a loss of funding for the district.
City Council allocates two pools of discretionary funding—one for expenses and another for capital projects. Capital funding is for construction of schools, hospitals and infrastructure. Expense funding generally goes to non-profit organizations such as after-school programs.
Capital funding is allocated at the discretion of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Distribution of expense funding is slightly different. Each councilmember receives $340,000 to distribute, with additional funding distributed at the discretion of the Speaker.
According to a report by Citizens Union, amounts distributed to each council district vary widely. District 7 pulled in a total of $25.7 million in both capital and expense funding for fiscal years 2009 through 2012. District 10 brought in $19.22 million during the same period. In comparison, District 47, led by Domenic Recchia, Jr. raked in $68.3 million. District 19, led by Daniel Halloran, received only $9.9 million.
Since Councilmember Jackson represents other areas besides Inwood and Washington Heights, not all of his funding went to northern Manhattan.
But if the area loses a councilmember, Councilmember Jackson said local groups could see a reduction in funds.
Ritter added that the situation is even more complex when organizations have constituents who cross council lines.
For example, P.S. 173 has an after-school program funded by both Councilmembers because students live in both districts. A loss of one councilmember for the area could reduce funding for these types of programs.
“There are dozens of examples like that,” she said.
García noted that along with the rest of the city, northern Manhattan is facing drastic cuts in after-school programs.
“When it comes to advocat[ing] for resources, the more voices you have at City Hall to say, ‘This is unacceptable,’ the better you are as a community to anchor and leverage your resources,” she said.
García urged community members to attend and speak at the next Districting Commission meeting on Oct. 4th at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue, which will begin at 5:30 p.m.
For more information, residents can call the Office of Councilmember Robert Jackson at 212.928.1322 or can also contact the NYC Redistricting Commission at 212.442.6940 or at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dc/html/home/home.shtml.