Council Redistricting Commission Votes to Ditch Controversial New Borders

By Jill Colvin on December 4, 2012 3:01pm 

NEW YORK CITY — The city’s Districting Commission has officially withdrawn new City Council district lines following widespread outrage over a last-minute change that would have helped disgraced Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

At a hastily-called meeting Tuesday morning, the commission voted to withdraw the lines that were submitted to the City Council for a vote on November 19 and publish a new draft map, sparking a new round of public hearings.

“The Commission heard the public’s call for additional hearings and we are happy to provide that opportunity for such further hearings with our action today,” Chair Benito Romano said in a statement. “It is only through public participation will the Commission be able to create a district plan that accurately reflects the diversity of this city.”

The commission, which claims to be independent, elicited outrage after it decided to quietly redraw Brooklyn's 34th District's borders at the 11th hour to include Lopez's Bushwick home.

Lopez had been hinting that he is considering a council run after being stripped of his leadership positions in Albany following a slew of sexual harassment complaints, and observers believe he would have a far better chance of winning in the 34th than in his current 37th district thanks to his deep political ties in the 34th, which is currently represented by term-limited City Councilwoman Diana Reyna.

The request for the change reportedly came directly from City Councilman Erik Dilan, a close Lopez ally, who represents the 37th.

The new maps return the blocks around Lopez's home back into the 37th district and also tweak the borders of the 20th district in Queens.

The commission had previously said that, once they formally submitted their proposed lines to the City Council, there was no way to make changes unless unless a majority of council members voted to reject the lines by Dec. 10.

But the commission's lawyers now say the move is permitted under the City Charter.

“The Commission’s action in providing additional opportunity to comment on the revised plan goes a long way toward fulfilling the Charter’s intention to maximize public participation,” said commission executive director Carl Hum.

Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner, however, said the last-minute withdrawal failed to pass muster and called for the entire map to be scrapped.

"A more thorough and transparent process is paramount in order to restore the public's faith that our City's representational lines have not been politicized for personal gain," she said.

"While we welcome the opportunity for additional public hearings, analysis, and comment we are troubled by the fact that the Commission circumvented the revision procedure outlined in the City Charter and that Commission members appear not to be receiving information on the plans and procedures that they are being asked to approve in advance of the actual vote," she said.

The commission developed it maps after months of public input.

But it voted to approve its final plan less than an hour after it was first unveiled to the public, giving elected officials and voters zero time for review.

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