New York.- This time the Republicans have really done it! Their redistricting plan for redistricting has angered all ethnic groups living in New York City and suburbs and received tons of criticism as partisan and racist. On Tuesday more than 100 people gathered in a disproportionately small room at the Queens Borough Hall, for a town hall meeting to discuss LATFOR’s (Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment) proposed redistricting lines.
One hundred people – among them Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, Democratic District leaders Costas Constantinidis, Federation of Hellenic Societies president Elias Tsekerides and civic leader George Stamatiades – testified, slamming the Republican plan.
“The goal of the Republicans is to deny democracy to millions of New Yorkers in communities of color for the benefit of 32 white Republicans”, Mike Gianaris said in his testimony.
Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, a Republic candidate for US Senate, was encouraged during a visit at the Federation of the Hellenic Societies in Astoria to convey to his personal friend, a fellow Nassau Republican and the mastermind of the plan, Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos, the disappointment of the Greek American Community.
“After decades of political struggle, the Greek Americans of Astoria accomplished political representation in Albany. Dean Skelos plan by splitting Astoria may destroy that”, Apostolos Zoupaniotis, publisher and Editor of Greek News told George Maragos.
The Nassau comptroller agreed that it’s fair Astoria to stay intact and promised to discuss the issue with Skelos.
“Your point is valid since districts were carved to help ethnic groups. I will plea the community’s case with Senator Skelos”.
Members of the Jamaica branch of the NAACP, along with elderly Greek American gathered outside Queens Borough Hall before the hearing on redistricting to protest the proposed lines.
Others rushed inside to reserve seats and show their anger at LATFOR’s chairmen, Assemblyman John McEneny (D-Albany) and State Sen. Mike Nozzolio (R-Seneca Falls), when they said elected officials were to be heard first.
Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) pointed out that minority areas outside the city like Hempstead in Nassau County and New Rochelle in Westchester County were split up into districts that were a majority of whites and Republicans.
“Today you are being called out,” Gianaris said to LATFOR’s members.
When he was criticized for being angry because he was into the same district as State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), he said:
“I will not sit here and plead for this panel to change its mind and include my home within the boundaries of my current district, which was left overwhelmingly intact in the draft plan released two weeks ago.
There will be plenty of community residents who will testify to the sheer partisanship and absurdity of the approach you have taken in that regard. I will not take the bait.
It is clear that the Senate Republicans’ aim is to use blatant gerrymanders like that as straw men to distract the public from your true intentions; to create artificial problems that can be generously “solved” in your next draft while still achieving the disenfranchisement that is the ultimate goal of Senate Republicans.”
Queens Democrats charge that Republicans, who hold the majority in the state Senate, have deliberately drawn lines to pit incumbents against each other. As Michael Gianaris pointed out, “The final map reveals the level to which Senate Republicans are intent on fostering the divide between upstate and downstate. Every single Senate district north of Westchester is under-populated by nearly 5% and every single Senate district south of that line is overpopulated. The effect of this unconstitutional power grab guarantees that a vote above Westchester is worth more than a vote below, and the racial implications are unavoidable.
The top 9 districts measured by African-American population would contain 2,864,377 residents, while the top 10 white districts would contain 2,925,718 residents – a number that is essentially the same with a difference of only 2%.
This means that for every 9 Senators to which African-American communities are entitled, white communities would receive 10. In other words, the vote of an African-American New Yorker would be worth 9/10 that of a white resident under the proposed draft.
Gentlemen, your actions have embarrassed yourselves and brought shame to the state of New York,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris, whose home was drawn into a neighboring district.
Assembly member Aravella Simotas (D, 36th AD) addressing the effect the republican plan will have in Astoria, said:
“The proposed lines for District 12 represent a brazen attempt to exclude Senator Michael Gianaris from the district he has represented as both a member of the State Assembly and the State Senate. It is no coincidence that Senator Gianaris has been an outspoken opponent of the partisan nature of the reapportionment process and has called on members of the Senate Majority to uphold their campaign promises and establish an independent system of redistricting. For his actions, the Senate Republicans have sought retribution, but the true penalty is visited upon the residents of western Queens.
The deliberate division of a cohesive community will cost its residents the unified representation they have long enjoyed. Lifelong neighbors will be separated by absurd district lines. Parents with children in the same school will not be able to approach their elected representative together. Seniors and individuals with disabilities will be unable to travel to far-flung district offices. It is their voices that will be sacrificed to the Republican majority’s craven attempt to maintain their grasp on state government.”
Elias Tsekerides, President of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, in his testimony asked Governor Cuomo to veto the plan.
“The Governor must veto any lines drawn through this panel’s process, since it is absolutely unfair and does not serve the interest of the people of this Community.”
Tsekerides said the Astoria community is best served by keeping Astoria whole and contained in one district, so that its community members can be represented by someone who understands what the various groups here need and how to best serve them.
“Splitting the community apart would weaken the Astoria community’s voice in government and keep them from being served fairly and with the community’s best interests at heart. Separating the community into two different districts would also hurt the harmonious relationships currently existing between the various groups (ethnic, racial, religious) living in Astoria. Those groups also have different interests and are served differently by their respective representatives.”
Democratic Leader Costas Constantinidis, speaking to the Greek News said Astoria has always been one community.
“It should not be split in two. This is a blatant attempt by the Senate Republicans to punish Senator Gianaris, who is doing a fantastic job”.
Constantinidis stressed the need to keep our communities together.
“They are one community and stay as such. That’s why you see today people from every Queens neighborhood protesting the plan”.
Constantinidis was critical to Majority Leader Skelos, who’s plan is hearting the Greek American Community.
“This is terrible for the Community. Dean Skelos as a Greek American should have pride in seeing a Greek selected to office. I see those Greek Americans in office as examples for our children. His action is despicable.”