Redistricting plan draws harsh rebukes

Protesters rallied in front of Harlem’s Schomburg Center on Oct. 4 to voice opposition to a redistricting proposal that would shift most of Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito’s base to Mott Haven.

Councilwoman, constituents say new lines will hurt Mott Haven

Most of Mott Haven would get a new representative on the City Council under a redistricting plan unveiled to the public in a series of hearings this month.

The new map would stretch the Eighth Council District, currently represented by Manhattan Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, all the way up to 152nd Street and as far east as St. Mary’s Park – an area currently represented by Maria del Carmen Arroyo.

“The Bronx part of my district grew from 10 percent to 52 percent,” Mark-Viverito said at an Oct. 4 Districting Commission hearing at Harlem’s Schomburg Center. “I welcome the opportunity to increase my representation of the Bronx.”

But in an Oct. 9th blog post, Mark-Viverito expressed her opposition to the new lines of representation being drawn. She wrote “I am prepared to state emphatically that these proposed district lines as presented are completely unacceptable to the communities I represent,” after studying the proposed the lines, and meeting with “members of my community as well as leaders around the city.”

As proposed, the lines would remove La Marqueta at 115th St. and Park Avenue in East Harlem from Mark-Viverito’s district, clipping it back one block from Madison to Park Avenue. Mark-Viverito stands to lose 30 percent of East Harlem.

“The Commission should restore those parts of El Barrio/East Harlem that remain strongly Latino and identify with the neighborhood,” she said in the Oct. 9 post. “Anything else would represent a glaring disregard for maintaining this community of interest intact.”

Since 2006, Mark-Viverito has represented a sliver of Mott Haven in addition to East Harlem, Central Park, a portion of the Upper West Side and Randall’s Island. The proposed maps would expand the eighth district to include not only the entirety of Mott Haven, but also the waterfront up past Yankee Stadium, through Highbridge to the George Washington Bridge, an area currently represented by Helen Foster.

Bronx residents worry about the change. Highbridge resident Joanne Smithers, who testified to the commission at an Oct. 2 hearing at Bronx Community College, said Mark-Viverito should stay in Manhattan and the Bronx should get a new council seat altogether.

“We need another council person in Highbridge,” said Smithers, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years. “We’re the ones that know more than the politicians know.”

Former state Senator David Rosado, who lives in Arroyo’s district, said Mark-Viverito has not made the Bronx a priority.

“I’ve only seen Melissa maybe twice since she became the councilwoman for the eighth,” he said. “She’s not in the Bronx at all, unless she comes at midnight.”

Neither Mark-Viverito nor Arroyo returned calls for comment.

Aureo Cardona, a consultant who has lived in Mott Haven since 1972, said the proposed new lines for the 8th district would pose a problem not only for South Bronx residents, but for Mark-Viverito herself..

“It shouldn’t be a stepchild to a councilperson in another borough. It’s absurd,” Cardona said. “She doesn’t want to focus on the people of Mott Haven because she cannot win here. She needs the white vote on the West Side. She needs to stay in East Harlem where she’s built her base.”

Political consultant Hank Scheinkopf agrees the plan spells trouble for Mark-Viverito.

“She’s never run in that district,” he said. “The question is, is that a fair deal?”

A new district for the Bronx is out of the question, according to the Districting Commission, because the City Charter allows for a maximum of 51 districts, regardless of changes in population.

“Most people are not paying attention to government except when it’s hurting them,” Sheinkopf said. “That’s the law. If you don’t like it, get some signatures together and change it.”

Activist Mychal Johnson, a member of Community Board 1 who lives in Arroyo’s district, said he was opposed to the changes for Mott Haven, and added the addition of the waterfront to the north would dilute attention to Mott Haven’s needs.

“It’s such a large district to cover,” he said. “I’m just totally against the proposed plan having the district be about 120 blocks in length.”

The second round of public hearings is underway, after which the commission will meet to draw up the revised maps on Oct. 30, to be presented to the City Council for approval on Nov. 5. If the council turns down the maps, the feedback process will start all over again with a Jan. 15 deadline.

If the council approves the maps, they must go on to be approved by the Department of Justice after March 5, under provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act designed to prevent gerrymandering. District lines will need to be finalized ahead of the 2013 elections.