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East Harlem Residents Fear Loss of La Marqueta in Redistricting

By Jill Colvin | October 5, 2012 12:22pm | Updated on October 5, 2012 1:47pm

HARLEM — East Harlem residents demanded that La Marqueta remain part of their City Council district at a raucous meeting in West Harlem.

Hundreds of residents railed for hours late Thursday against preliminary draft maps released by the city's Districting Commission, which is tasked with redrawing the city's council district lines to adjust for changes tracked in the 2010 census count.

Of deepest concern was the fate of City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito's 8th district, which currently spans El Barrio/East Harlem as well as Manhattan Valley on the Upper West Side and Mott Haven in the Bronx.

Under the proposal, the district's borders would shift dramatically, turning it into a majority-Bronx district. The plan would also shift the district east, slicing out the beloved La Marqueta market — the gem of the Puerto Rican community in the city, residents said.

"You are destroying history, culture," said Agnes Rivera, 61, a district leader and member of Community Voices Heard in testimony delivered at the hearing at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

"Would you do this to Little Italy?! Would you do this to Chinatown?! Shame on you!" she railed as members of the audience shouted and waved signs that read "Save East Harlem!" and "Don't Destroy District 8!"

Mark-Viverito said she understood that population changes meant her district likely had to expand deeper into the Bronx, but felt the proposed map made no sense.

"The proposed district lines that are currently drawn cannot stand," she said.

The event was the second borough-specific hearing planned to give residents an opportunity to weigh in on the draft map, which was released last month.

Commissioners have stressed the map is intended only as a first draft and that they are open to changes in response to community concerns.

But impassioned residents charged there had been a concerted effort to diminish their power and rob them of their voices after years of work.

"Now we get lines that destroy us, that split us in half," said Blanca Vazquez, 64, co-chair of the Manhattan Valley Preservation Coalition, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years.

"We feel like we're being punished for having succeeded," she said.

There were also complaints about changes to other neighborhoods.

The proposal map, for instance, would unify Inwood into a single council district and divide Washington Heights in half. Inwood is currently divided between two council districts: the eastern half, which is more than 80 percent Hispanic, is represented by Ydanis Rodriguez's 10th council district, while the wealthier, more mixed western half is represented by Robert Jackson's 7th.

City Councilwoman Inez Dickens, whose district would include La Marqueta under the proposed new lines, said the revised map failed to "reflect the reality of any of our communities" and threatened to "crack the Dominican community [in Washington Heights] in half."

Instead, she called for the commission to adapt an alternative map, called the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Districting Plan, which would keep many of the lines the same.

Others have endorsed a so-called Unity Map, which is aimed at increasing Latino and Asian representation in the council.

But City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez expressed concern that map would strip her district of several housing projects and low-income buildings where many black and Latino voters live — potentially compromising her re-election chances, she said.

The commission is set to unveil its revised map early next month.

The commission will continue holding hearings through October to hear testimony about plans for each of the boroughs. The next hearings are:

Tuesday, Oct. 9th: Staten Island. New Dorp High School. 65 New Dorp Lane. 5:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct.10th: Queens. LaGuardia Community College. Little Theater. 31-10 Thomson Ave. Long Island City. 5:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Thursday, Oct.11th — Brooklyn. Medgar Evers College. Founder's Auditorium. 1650 Bedford Avenue. 5:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

If you want to pre-register to give testimony, click here. Testimony can also be submitted online here.