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Angry East Harlem Residents Pledge to Fight Redistricting Plan

By Jeff Mays | January 4, 2013 10:17am

HARLEM — More than 75 angry residents said Thursday night they plan to fight a proposal that would reshape East Harlem's council district by removing 30 blocks and extending the district further into The Bronx.

The residents fear that East Harlem, regarded for its cultural institutions, will be represented by someone from The Bronx, leaving them without a voice. Early protests have already led the commission to return La Marqueta, a beloved market space in East Harlem, to the district.

"Just think about the work we've done in this community to nurture all these institutions," said Taina Traverso of Taina's Touch Artz Entrepreneurs. "We've been nurturing these institutions so they can nurture us back."

East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito criticized the new lines, drawn by the city’s Districting Commission, as "political machinations."

"It's working to curry favor and get support for someone's candidacy for mayor," Mark-Viverito said in a thinly veiled reference to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

The remark drew anger from the members of the crowd, who said residents should not be the victims of political manipulations.

"At the end of the day, we stand to lose a tremendous amount of resources. We will never get that seat back. It will cater to the Bronx machinery," said Peggy Morales, a district leader. "They need to understand we are not going quietly into the night."

Mark-Viverito is mentioned as a leading candidate to follow Quinn as council speaker. Fellow Harlem Councilwoman Inez Dickens is the other top contender.

Reshaping the district would force Mark-Viverito to face a tough challenge for her council seat from a Bronx opponent.

The Districting Commission has said its decisions are independent.

Under the currently proposed map, Randall's Island would also be cut out of District 8 and placed in a Queens council district. East Harlem residents have fought for access to the island for recreational use for years as it has been redeveloped with a tennis center and playing fields.

"What kind of say are we going to have if we have to deal with a Queens council member?" said Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Preservation.

"We are not going to have any control over what happens on that island."

Mark-Viverito said she was worried that the commission would return Randall's Island to the district but strip out more of East Harlem.

"If they want to bring Randall's Island into District 8, I don't want more block cut out of East Harlem," Mark-Viverito said.

A hearing of the city’s Districting Commission is scheduled for Jan. 7 before a final map is issued in March.

Traverso said she plans to be at Monday's hearing.

"This is gerrymandering, plain and simple," said Traverso. "They work for us and should pay attention to us and not those who are just trying to move up in the ranks."