Redistricting the NYC Council: A Battle We Must Fight

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An editorial in New York's Spanish-language El Diario/La Prensa, translated from Spanish by the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP) argues that Latinos must fight to make their voices heard in the battle over redistricting in New York City.

NEW YORK -- The City of New York began the process to update the districts starting in 2012 that are represented by the 51 legislators who make up the City Council, and thus reflect demographic changes in the last 10 years.

Despite being complex and complicated enough, the Latino community (individuals and organizations) should be familiar with this process and the terminology that describes it, lest they take us for a ride.

Redistricting the electoral map is a complex task because it must ensure that the five counties are divided into legislative districts that ensure the representation on the Council of the diverse communities living in the city. It is complicated because political and partisan interests often interfere in the decision-making.

Several weeks ago Mayor Bloomberg and Council Democrats and Republicans announced the names of the 15 people who now make up the commission in charge of redrawing the map and submitting a final plan in November to the full Council.

This process did not begin well.

Shortly after the announcement, the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP) noted that only three of the 15-member New York City Districting Commission are Latino, the same number that the commission had in 1990, although the Hispanic community in the city grew by 31% since then.

Under the new demographics, we should have had five representatives on the committee.

The final composition of the committee is disappointing, especially from the Council, which appoints eight of the 15 members.

The way the members of this panel are selected and its final constitution is something that should be analyzed and improved. For now we have to get on this fast train and ensure that the commission does a fair job for Latinos to achieve the representation and participation they deserve.

The newly-formed commission held its initial meeting yesterday, the first of several that will occur during the summer prior to submitting a plan in September for public discussion. It is important that Hispanic groups participate and do their work in the communities they serve to raise awareness about the importance of monitoring the process and attend public hearings.

What is at stake? The power of our voice as a community in public policies that govern our daily lives and in the distribution of funds for vital services in our neighborhoods.

In recent years, Latino neighborhoods have managed to elect 11 Hispanic Councilmembers of the 51 that make up the municipal body. This number --- which represents about 22% of the Council --- is proportional to the share of Latino voters in the city. This parity has been achieved with efforts to incorporate Latinos, make sure we run for office and vote.

However, for various reasons, we do not always get a fair piece of the pie, and our neighborhoods, community groups and small businesses fall short of the support they need to succeed. Hispanics cannot stop sending the message that there are certain lines that cannot be crossed. This is a battle we must fight in a city that often seems reluctant to empower Latinos.