Redistricting Commission holds hearings in Queens, Brooklyn

senate, and assembly districts with the help of residents.
To coordinate such a huge task, the New York Independent Redistricting Commission is holding a series of hearings throughout the state to gather input.
The redistricting process traditionally happens every ten years after the Census count, and has long been subject to the whims of partisan policymakers. This has resulted in oddly shaped districts that divide communities, gerrymandered to favor the candidates of a political party.
However, a referendum was passed by New York State voters in 2014 that created a new Independent Redistricting Commission to replace the partisan process. Composed of five Democrats and five Republicans, the commission will take into account the information gathered from hearings and propose new districts that, in theory, will be less politically motivated.
The commission is expected to propose new district maps before the end of the month.
The commission recently held hearings in Queens and Brooklyn. Lasting multiple hours, the hearings were attended by a large number of New Yorkers who highlighted gerrymandered, problematic, and ineffective districting throughout the boroughs.

QUEENS
The Queens hearing received input from residents from Astoria to the Rockaways, however a few areas were mentioned multiple times because of their clearly poor district maps.
The districts that include Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens, and other nearby neighborhoods received the most attention for the way the district lines divide communities.
Speakers discussed the ways that Asian, Black, Indian, and Latinx communities are particularly disenfranchised by the current district maps.
“The area from the Van Wyck Expressway all the way down to Nassau County is not just a road, it is the spine of a community,” explained John P. Albert, who testified at the hearing on behalf of the nonprofit organization Taking Our Seat. “It is home to a significant Indian American population that is split among three assembly districts.”
Maria Calfer, a Taiwanese immigrant and mother from Forest Hills, echoed a similar sentiment.
“There is a very active and vibrant civic community in Central Queens, but my neighbors and I have found it hard and at times disenfranchising to engage in politics,” she said. “We are represented by four different state senators, but only one of them has an office in central Queens.”
After the hearing, some Muslim residents expressed anger that the hearing was held during Eid al-Adha, a major holiday that lasts multiple days. The commission will continue to accept testimony from residents online through the middle of August.

BROOKLYN
Like Queens, the Brooklyn hearing featured testimony from residents throughout the borough but clearly highlighted a few key areas.
Primarily, residents spoke of the need to change districts in the southern half of Brooklyn, an area that at points even shares representation with Staten Island across the Narrows.
For example, the neighborhood of Sunset Park is currently divided among four different state senate districts, dividing the area’s growing Asian population and preventing them from having a cohesive voice in government.
L. Joy Williams, a representative from the Brooklyn branch of the NAACP, explained how similarly poor districting affects Black communities throughout the borough, particularly in and around Flatbush.
“The communities of African descent are diverse in Brooklyn, but well connected,” she said. “Our districts should reflect that.”
Residents testifying during the Brooklyn hearing directly called out partisan gerrymandering as the root of the problem, pointing to obtuse maps that were intended to favor Republican candidates.
“There is a pro-Republican bias in the New York Senate map, especially in Brooklyn,” said Martin Asher, an attorney testifying during the hearing. “This is clear partisan gerrymandering that does not benefit residents.”
State Senator Andrew Gounardes, who represents an oddly drawn southern Brooklyn district that includes parts of Bay Ridge, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach and Flatbush, offered his own comments separate from the hearing.
“With the population density of Brooklyn being what it is, there’s no reason why my district would extend from the Narrows waterfront all the way to Flatbush Avenue, but cut out about half the population that lives in between that span,” he said.

Brooklyn DA, clergy work to stop gun violence

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez last week announced a new partnership with local clergy to help limit gun violence. The announcement comes as New York City gun violence rises to the highest rates in more than a decade.
Over 500 people have already been shot in 2021, a figure that will likely rise as the warmer summer months approach.
“Trusted community members can do a lot to stem violence,” Gonzalez said during a press conference in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “With the right training and support, community members can effectively intervene in disputes and conflicts.”
The DA’s partnership with local clergy is meant to prevent shootings before they happen by bringing new programs of support to various communities. They will work with NYPD officials to provide counseling to at-risk children and organize paid internships to get kids working and off the streets.
The new program will be piloted at the 67th Precinct in East Flatbush, the 69th Precinct in Canarsie, the 70th Precinct in Flatbush, the 79th Precinct in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the 83rd Precinct in Bushwick.
Gonzales emphasized the importance of community-based solutions, and expressed his hope that the partnership with the clergy would open the doorway to other innovative programs.
“Finding community-based solutions to violence must be a priority in our fight against gun violence,” said Gonzalez. “I believe our faith leaders have an important role to play and can help us turn these crime upticks around because they have the experience, credibility and the resources to support victims of crime and to reach vulnerable youth and set them on a better path.
“Law enforcement has to take a step back,” he added. “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”
The new program builds upon the preexisting GodSquad that Pastor Gilford T. Monrose, president of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council. operates out of the precinct.
GodSquad has worked in collaboration with the NYPD and other community groups for over ten years to reduce gun violence in East Flatbush.
“Clergy councils have long served as a liaison between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” said Monrose. “By building on this collection of clergy leaders, this partnership will embody a holistic, multi-pronged approach with the help of our very diverse Brooklyn clergy.”
DA Gonzales’s announcement comes at a time when New York City’s gun violence has spiked to the highest levels in over a decade.

Brooklyn Diocese asks for more police protection

The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn recently requested the NYPD increase patrols near churches in Brooklyn and Queens. The response comes after a series of recent incidents on Church properties throughout the city.
“It is disheartening to see acts of religious intolerance against the Catholic Church, most recently at St. Athanasius and our Diocesan offices,” said diocese deputy press secretary John Quaglione.
The two incidents Quaglione referenced happened within a week of each other. In the early morning hours of May 14, a crucifix was toppled and damaged and an American Flag burned at St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church in Bensonhurst.
The damaged crucifix was discovered by Monsignor David Cassato around 8 a.m. on his walk from the rectory to the academy to greet the students. The crucifix was installed as a tribute to the monsignor’s late mother.
On May 17, a statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus was found vandalized near the diocese’s administrative office in Windsor Terrace. Jesus’s head was removed. Diocese officials are working towards repairing the statue to its original form.
The incidents come after a year in which New York’s places of worship have been either closed or seen their capacity greatly limited.
“Many people are now just getting comfortable returning to church after more than a year of hesitation and fear stemming from the coronavirus pandemic,” explained Quaglione. “We have now reopened our churches at 100 percent capacity and the last thing we want is our faithful to feel unsafe attending Mass.”
Despite the incidents, Quaglione is confident that the diocese can thrive and be of service as the pandemic slowly comes to a close.
“As we continue to see the light at the end of the tunnel of the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be people who are experiencing anger and frustration over the loss of a loved one, employment, or income,” said Quaglione. “Our message to them is to let the Church help you through the mental health services offered through Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens.”
The diocese is not the only religious community experiencing a surge in hate crimes. On May 13, worshipers at the Tayba Islamic Center in Sheepshead Bay were shocked to find anti-Palestine phrases scrawled on the side of the building.
On May 22, a group of Jewish worshipers were verbally assaulted outside of a Borough Park Temple. Both episodes occurred while tensions between Israel and Palestine remained extremely high.

Democratic borough president hopefuls debate

A crowded field of Democratic candidates are vying to replace Eric Adams as borough president of Brooklyn.
On May 18, six candidates – Robert Cornegy, Kim Council, Khari Edwards, Mathieu Eugene, Antonio Reynoso, and Jo Anne Simon – exchanged jabs and discussed policy during a televised debate.
Topics included affordable housing, the city’s economy in the wake of COVID-19, and the controversial Industry City rezoning.
Polls currently place current councilmen Cornegy and Reynoso at the front of the pack. The two sparred during the debate, with Cornegy questioning Reynoso over his lack of support for the doomed Industry City rezoning in Sunset Park.
“Months later, there has been no alternative plan for job creation in that area, no alternative for putting people on a pathway to any opportunity in that area,” Cornegy said. “I’m curious as to how you count that as a win when nothing else has been created?”
Reynoso defended his stance on the issue, citing the opposition leveraged against the rezoning by Sunset Park’s current councilman Carlos Menchaca and the local community board.
“The community board voted against the Sunset Park rezoning, every single elected official that represents that district voted against it, and I think that given their experience and their time in their community they know what’s best,” Reynoso explained.
Reynoso went on to emphasize the importance of listening to community feedback on all land-use issues.
Edwards, who serves as Brookdale Hospital vice president and coordinator of the East Brooklyn Call to Action Campaign, used his speaking time to address the high rate of displacement and gentrification in the borough.
He particularly criticized Cornegy for allowing so much development in his district, which includes Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights.
Council, a community activist and legal librarian, cited her experience bringing affordable housing and health clinics to Bedford-Stuyvesant. During the debate she suggested the creation of a mobile Borough Hall that would “flip the switch on top-down governance.”
Eugene, who represents Flatbush in the City Council, focused primarily on the issues of education and gun violence, calling for action to address the recent spike in violent crimes.
Simon, who currently serves in the state Assembly, also focused on gun safety. She called for the creation of new red-flag laws and cooperation with state and federal governments.

Adams thanks diocese for COVID relief efforts

Standing in front of Borough Hall this past Friday, Borough President Eric Adams honored the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Emergency Task Force for its year-long effort to assist first responders and frontline workers.
The task force consists of volunteers who worked closely with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Diocese leadership to distribute food and equipment.
Since the pandemic began, the group has delivered over 500,000 masks, 100,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, and 40,000 gloves to police and fire departments, hospitals, nursing homes, and other entities in need throughout the state.
Additionally, the group delivered iPads to students throughout the borough to assist with virtual learning.
“When we were out there criss-crossing Brooklyn, we saw the borough president out there criss-crossing as well,” said task force member said Vincent Levien. “He has always been there helping us help the people most in need.”
Adams awarded citations to all of the members present before offering his own brief remarks.
“We want to thank all the members of the organization for being the COVID heroes we expect,” he said. “Even during these challenging times, we should acknowledge how our faith-based institutions played such a vital and critical role in getting our city up and moving.”
“We are able to hope to get back to normal life because of dedicated people like them,” added Councilman Mathieu Eugene. “They put themself in danger to help of those in need. If it weren’t for them, the crisis would be worse.”

Diocese dealing with two hate crimes

Leaders of the Catholic church are worried they are in the midst of a hate crime spree after two acts of vandalism in just three days.
In the early morning hours of May 14, a crucifix was toppled and damaged and an American Flag burned at St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church in Bensonhurst.
The damaged crucifix was discovered by Monsignor David Cassato around 8 a.m. on his walk from the rectory to the academy to greet the students. It was found adjacent to the school at the corner of 61st Street and Bay Parkway, toppled and lying face down.
The crucifix was installed at the parish in 2010 in memory of Monsignor Cassato’s mother. The parish plans to repair and reinstall it in the same location.
“This was truly an act of hatred and today is the saddest day of my 20 years here at this parish,” said Cassato. “I went over and spoke to the students in the school about what happened, telling them that hate never wins.”
Over the weekend, a statue depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary holding Jesus was vandalized on the grounds of the Diocesan administrative offices at 310 Prospect Park West in Windsor Terrace. Jesus was decapitated.
The destruction was discovered by a facilities manager. The diocese is already working towards repairing the statue to its original form.
“We are definitely concerned that there is a pattern of hate crimes against Catholics,” said Monsignor Anthony Hernandez of the Diocese of Brooklyn. “The Diocese will be notifying our churches to be on alert, and we are asking the NYPD to increase patrols in and around the area of our churches.”
The NYPD is investigating both incidents as hate crimes. Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477).

Mayor announces $31 Million for Brooklyn park projects

This past Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver announced that construction has begun on four new capital projects in Brooklyn.
Representing more than a $31 million investment, the projects are focused on adding to and improving green space throughout the borough.
“A recovery for all of us means increasing access to parks in historically underserved neighborhoods and creating greener, healthier communities,” de Blasio said. “These four Brooklyn parks will bring joy to and serve New Yorkers for generations to come.”
The four projects include the construction or renovation of parks in multiple neighborhoods.
In Williamsburg, new recreational facilities will be added to Bushwick Inlet Park at 50 Kent Avenue. The additions include new seating areas, expansive lawns with views of Manhattan, and water sprinklers for the summer.
“For years, North Brooklyn has been asking ‘where’s our park?’” said Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher. “With this historic investment at 50 Kent, we’re one giant step closer to making the full Bushwick Inlet Park a reality.”
In Ocean Hill, Callahan Kelly Playground will receive its own renovation. The project will add fitness equipment and a skate park.
“This needed upgrade continues the legacy of Ocean Hill-Brownsville, as a neighborhood where residents can live, play, and raise a family,” said Assemblywoman Latrice Walker.
DUMBO’s Susan Smith McKinney Steward Park will be reconstructed with a new playground, fitness area, synthetic turf, and performance stage. Formerly Bridge Park II, Susan Smith McKinney Steward Park was officially renamed last December as part of Parks’ efforts to honor the Black experience.
Susan Smith McKinney was the first African-American woman in New York State to receive a license to practice medicine. She was born, raised, lived, and practiced in Brooklyn.
“Green spaces are critical for wellbeing, for children to play and as a gathering point for the community,” Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez agreed in her own statement. “These new projects will go a long way in bringing park equity to places like North Brooklyn and throughout the borough.”
Lastly, La Guardia playground in Williamsburg will be furnished with new play equipment, seating, landscaping, and a spray shower.
The La Guardia renovation will be completed through the Community Parks Initiative (CPI), the City’s first-ever parks equity initiative. Phase I of this CPI project was completed in fall 2020 and reconstructed the sports courts and plaza in the southern part of the park.
“It’s great to see our Parks capital projects getting underway again,” said Councilman Steve Levin. “Both of the long-awaited projects in District 33 will add much needed open space for people to use.”

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