City council redistricting kicks into gear

With state redistricting still in limbo, commission prepared to redraw lines

Posted

Come 2023, the lines separating the city’s 51 council districts may look a little different. A 15-member commission has begun the process of redrawing boundaries in preparation for next year’s elections, when all seats — including the ones held by Eric Dinowitz, Carmen De La Rosa and Pierina Sanchez — will be up for grabs.

The city is mandated to adjust district lines every 10 years to reflect the results of the latest census. And with the city seeing an increase of more than 600,000 residents since 2010, there is expected to be changes throughout the five boroughs.

To set the process into motion, the mayor and city council have organized 15 unpaid volunteers as part of a redistricting commission. At least three of the members — Yovan Collado, Lisa Sorin and Darrin Porcher — have close ties to the Bronx.

Sorin, president of the New Bronx Chamber of Commerce, was appointed by Mayor Eric Adams. And she was shocked when she heard the news.

“I don’t want to say I’m intimidated, but I” (am curious), Sorin said. “It’s almost like starting the first day of class. There’s that level of excitement.

“I look at the names of the individuals on the mayor’s side, and they’re these really smart, powerful individuals who have such a large level of knowledge. And I get to sit at this table with them.”

Sorin acknowledges that she’s not an expert in the minutiae of the redistricting process — few are — but she says she has always paid attention to the underlying machinery that powers the American electoral system.

And she has some concerns about the redistricting process at the congressional and state level, which was mired in controversy and accusations of partisan gerrymandering.

“Ignorantly — because I haven’t studied it enough, which I intend to — I’m going to say we lose a lot of our power, our voice, to these changes,” Sorin said. “My hope is that locally, it’s different.”

Indeed the city’s process is expected to look different, with less partisanship and more civility. At least that’s how it’s played out the past two times.

“Not a single lawsuit was filed against either plan,” said Jeffrey Wice, who served as counsel to the 2003 and 2013 redistricting commission. “The commission has done a fairly good job at drawing districts based on communities and based on what voters want.”

And unlike in the state’s process, the commission members — not the electeds — have the final say on what the new council map will look like.

But the members won’t fly by the seat of their pants, either. They are mandated to follow explicit rules — all of which are ranked in order of importance — when drawing the new lines. First and foremost, the districts must have an equitable population distribution — one person, one vote.

The second most important factor: racial minority communities cannot be split up so as to dilute their voting power.

Other remaining guidelines include: ensuring districts remain compact and contiguous while still following neighborhood borders. The commission also has to ensure lines are not drawn in an effort to split up voters registered to the same party.

And while the commission is supposed to reflect the diversity of the city, members are to remain unbiased for the most part.

“They can still share their experiences and their backgrounds, but they’re not there representing separate neighborhoods or communities,” said Wice, who teaches at New York Law School’s Census and Redistricting Institute.

Another appointee with ties to the Bronx is Yovan Collado, director of community relations at the Carpenter Contractor Alliance of Metropolitan New York. While he will, of course, adhere to the city charter’s guidelines, Collado can’t help but bring a little borough pride with him.

“I’m really excited to just participate in the process, and make sure that you know my people in the Bronx are represented,” he said.

While it’s too early to say how district lines will change, with a citywide population growth of more than 7 percent, the district lines are sure to move around.

“Each district will grow on average by about 12,000 people to reflect the city’s population growth,” Wice said. “That’s despite the fact that New York is still likely undercounted — especially in communities of color.”

The Bronx saw a population increase of more than 6 percent from 2010, with around 1.4 million more residents, according to census data.

Then, as always, COVID-19 throws a wrench into things, muddying the numbers. According to estimates just released by the U.S. Census Bureau, New York City lost nearly 300,000 residents between a 12-month period ending July 1 of last year. Despite that, Wice says the commission will not draw lines based off of these estimates and has to stay focused on the official, more granular data released in the decennial count. 

“You’re looking at estimates. So you can’t compare apples to oranges,” Wice said. “The estimates don’t go below the county level. So for council redistricting — or really any redistricting — you don’t know where the losses have occurred.”

Porcher, who was nominated by Republican council members, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The commission is expected to present a draft of the new district map in early June.

After a series of public meetings and “back-and-forths” with the city council, the new lines will be etched into city political maps just in time for next year’s council elections.

Comments