Residents of Woodhaven came out in full force at Monday’s redistricting hearing in Long Island City to protest proposed district lines that divide the neighborhood into two different districts.
Since the second draft was unveiled of City Council maps in November, the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) has been adamant about their opposition to a proposal that would again split Woodhaven into Councilman Eric Ulrich and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s districts. Specifically, portions of the neighborhood could be swapped between the two council members.
“When we saw your first series of maps where Woodhaven was almost entirely in one district, we were excited because we felt we’d finally get an opportunity to work with a
representative to help better our community and better the lives of the residents of that community,” said Ed Wendell, president of the WRBA. “We were extremely disappointed to see the lines go back to where we were split again. We ask you, with all due respect, to give us the opportunity this one time to show what we can do as a united community.”
WRBA joined many other groups who voiced their qualms to the Districting Commission tasked decennially with redrawing City Council lines to reflect the changing demographics of the city. Originally, there was not supposed to be a third round of public hearings. After news broke that Brooklyn Councilman Erik Dilan had asked that term-limited Brooklyn Councilwoman Diana Reyna’s district be altered to include Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s residence—Lopez, the former leader of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, is being investigated for sexually harassing members of his staff—Council Speaker Christine Quinn asked the commission to modify the district. Instead of presenting the council maps to the City Council for approval, the commission withdrew and then redrew the Brooklyn district, as well as two districts in northeast Queens.
Good government groups, though upset with the redistricting process, were glad to be given one final opportunity to voice their concerns in front of the commission. Two former Queens elected officials, Republicans Tom Ognibene and Frank Padavan, sit on the commission.
The first draft of the council districts, as Wendell noted, kept Woodhaven almost completely unified, but the second did not.
One Woodhaven resident made a direct plea to Ognibene.
“Woodhaven is a distinct and unified community and should not be split,” said Woodhaven resident and WRBA member Marianne Blenkinsopp. “Anyone who is familiar with
Woodhaven, including Mr. Ognibene, who used to be my city council member, knows we are a clear, well-defined neighborhood with a true sense of identity.
Long-time Woodhaven resident Colin Bucca agreed, making an impassioned plea to the commission.
“Moving these boundaries around for some cell equation in a spreadsheet is wrong,” he said. “A neighborhood is defined by the people that live there. I live in Woodhaven, it’s my neighborhood. I moved there, I invested heavily in there and now with the wave of a pen, what I chose and what I decided to make my life is not what it was, it’s something different now. They say the pen is mightier than the sword—please, don’t attack us with a deadly weapon.”
By Ross Barkan