This month AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui testified before the New York City Districting Commission. A series of public hearings was held as the commission prepares to redraw City Council boundaries based on the 2010 U.S. Census. Kui made appearances at the Brooklyn hearing August 13 and the Manhattan hearing August 16.
In prepared remarks at the Brooklyn hearing, Kui noted that the borough has seen large increases in the population of Asians in the past decade. AAFE’s 2011 report “Distinct Places: Shared Opportunities,” found that the Asian population of New York City (over one-million strong) is centered in 20 community districts. More than three-quarters of the city’s Asian population lives in these areas. In nine of these districts, Asians make up at least 25% of the population. In places like Bensonhurst, one in three residents is of Asian descent. In Sunset Park, 53% of the residents are Asian.
In spite of these statistics, Kui told the commission, Asians continue to be under-represented in city government:
…opportunities for political representation have not kept pace with population growth, with no elected official of Asian descent in Brooklyn when compared to Manhattan and Queens. It is imperative that we allow for such opportunities to arise by ensuring that the districts reflect changes in demographics so that all New Yorkers are adequately represented. With a borough population of 284,000 and growing, Asian American New Yorkers should have one or two elected officials in Brooklyn in the coming decade.
Kui added that Asians can and should be given greater opportunity for representation without impinging on the rights of other diverse groups. “Asians can have elected representation while protecting the political will and aspirations of other minority groups in the borough. Haphazardly lumping Asians with other large minority plurality districts will only foster division and pit underrepresented groups against each other,” he said.
Kui testified in favor of the commission following its own lead, established 10 years ago when three new districts (1, 2 and 3) were created in Lower Manhattan:
The current boundaries allowed three strong women – a Chinese American, a staunch advocate of the LGBT community and a Puerto Rican who is also in her own right a champion of the LGBT community – to represent the core constituents and major pluralities of those districts. Manhattan’s Chinatown, the original Asian American neighborhood in New York City, was able for the first time in its history to finally elect a Chinese American Council member.
Kui said population gains justify an Asian plurality district in the area around Bensonhurst:
We urge the Commission to follow the example set by the NY State Assembly in re-drawing the boundaries of the 49th State Assembly District. That plan proposed a 51 percent majority Asian district, incorporating much of Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst, in order to increase the possibility for electoral representation by the Asian American community in the NY State Assembly.
At the Manhattan hearing of the Districting Commission, Kui made the case that Asians (who make up 13% of the city’s population) should be represented on the City Council by five to six lawmakers, rather than the two who now sit on the Council. He also debunked the flawed theory that additional representation is not justified because the Census shows a declining population in Manhattan’s District 1 (Chinatown):
…the one district argument is premised on the assumption of declining population, particularly a percentage decline in Asians in the core Chinatown area. But every local Asian American social service and tenant organizing group, regardless of where one stands on district lines, can attest to the fact that population loss is not what is being experienced in the grassroots. The gentrification and dislocation of low income households did not simply make people disappear. In tenement after tenement, we find that households are doubling and tripling up in apartments, and staying under the radar to avoid eviction. Simply accepting population loss when it may not be clearly evident condemns thousands into under-representation, most especially if an entire district is lumped together with another based on that flawed assumption.
Kui called on the commission to keep Districts 1, 2 and 3 more or less whole when new boundaries are drawn. “Let us protect the hard earned gains that our Lower Manhattan community have achieved in these past 20 years, and let us keep these districts intact so that we may continue to build upon our successes to tackle the issues our residents continue to face,” he said.
See the complete transcripts of Chris Kui’s testimony here:
City Council Redistricting: Representation or Segregation? The Debate Begins (link) – Daily News; August 15, 2012
Commission Holds First Hearing On How To Redraw City Council Lines (link) – NY1; August 13, 2012