Blog: Wiener’s Downfall is An Unexpected Opportunity For Racial Justice

Posted on 07/20/2011 @ 03:50 PM

By Juan Cartagena
LatinoJustice President and General Counsel

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Anthony Wiener’s resignation plays right into the demographic reality that New York’s congressional delegation will be two people short in next year’s Congress and the demographic boon that Latinos are the prime engine for New York City’s unprecedented growth in the last decade.

Now New York has a rare opportunity to redraw the boundaries of the state’s delegation to both better reflect the interests of the different neighborhoods in the metropolitan region and strengthen the ability of racial minorities to elect candidates of their choice. New York state begins hearings on redistricting tomorrow (July 19) in Syracuse

The mechanics of redistricting this year are not simple. New York State has to lose two Congressional seats because the State’s population did not keep up with the growth in other states. Following the pattern of decades past the Republican controlled State Senate and the Democratic controlled State Assembly typically share the pain and this will likely result in the Democrats giving up a downstate seat and the Republicans an upstate seat.

Also, each Congressional District has to add an average of 50,000 residents to meet the mandated increase in population size for each District due to the loss of two seats. Unsurprisingly, no Congressional member has volunteered to give up a seat, but since protecting Weiner’s incumbency is no longer necessary, there is enough flexibility to reconfigure the entire metropolitan region so that the various communities of interest, especially Latinos can be better served than they are now under the current lines.

If District 9 is eliminated, minority neighborhoods can be aligned in such a way that their strength at the ballot box is not just preserved but strengthened. The distribution of populations should help strengthen several minority districts throughout the city.

For example, District 12, represented by Nydia Velasquez, needs to grow by 45,000 people. Largely Latino Woodhaven, which is now in District 9, could easily be assigned to Velasquez’s district.

Similarly, the district lines can be reconfigured so as to ensure that the communities of interest between minority neighborhoods can be better aligned and served. African Americans in Caroline McCarthy’s Fourth District in Elmont could be aligned with African American communities in Gregory Meek’s Sixth District, for example.

As tempting as it is to keep the City’s delegation at the same size, maintaining all the current districts will by definition force them to elongate north and east well beyond the City’s borders. It will also jeopardize the Latino community’s current ability to elect candidates of choice in four congressional seats – still way below their proportion of the City’s population.

Instead the proper distribution of these populations with Weiner’s elimination could compensate them for the past deprivations of their voting rights. New York City was found to have violated the voting rights of Latinos and African-Americans not that long ago. Race has always been a major driving force in the electoral process of this country since its founding.

Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, and other racial minorities have been discriminated against at the voting booth in numerous ways. Language and literacy tests, intimidation at polling places, broken or confusing voting machines, and especially the drawing of district lines that minimize their chances to elect candidates of their choice are all schemes that have been used to deny them equal voting opportunities.

The state leaders who draw the lines should take advantage of this unique opportunity in congressional redistricting to give justice especially to the City’s Latino communities that have spurred the growth of the City’s population. Given the track record of previous exclusion, Latino communities deserve no less.

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