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In a surprise turnaround, members of the New York City Redistricting Commission have voted against sending newly drawn maps that would largely restore sweeping neighborhood changes for approval to the City Council — as local activists implored the group to keep Hell’s Kitchen whole in the face of newly released drafts shaving blocks off the district.
“The revised map presented this morning is certainly better than the old one as far as Hell’s Kitchen is concerned. But it’s not perfect,” said Christine Gorman, president of Hell’s Kitchen Democrats, adding that she was surprised the draft — which even the commission’s spokesperson publicly predicted would pass — did not. “It splits Hell’s Kitchen in two instead of three parts — rhat has happened before. I have lived on the same block of northern Hell’s Kitchen for 30 years. I’ve previously been assigned to City Council District 6 and am currently in District 3. I still think Hell’s Kitchen should be kept whole.”
The current draft leaves a smaller but more intact Hell’s Kitchen — with five blocks moved into Gale Brewer’s Upper West Side District 6 at W54th Street — instead of the previously re-drawn three district split at W49th Street. “District 3 was overpopulated by nearly 30 thousand persons,” said commission chair Dennis M Walcott, adding, “There was clear testimony that Hell’s Kitchen wanted to be kept intact — it was previously divided in the preliminary plan and this particular objective was accomplished with the revised plan.” The new map would also mean that Hudson River Park would be split between council districts — in the past, it has just been part of District 3.
To approve the current draft, nine of the 15 members of the commission needed to vote in favor of sending the maps for final approval with the City Council. Commission chair Walcott, Yovan Samuel Collado, Marilyn Go, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Maf Misbah Uddin, Kristen Johnson and Gregory Kirschenbaum voted in favor of the current draft, while eight members of the council (Mike Schnall, Kevin John Hanratty, Maria Mateo, Joshua Schneps, Lisa Sorin, Kai-Ki Wong, Dr Darrin Porcher and Marc Wurzel) voted against the proposed re-drawings. City and State identified the members rejecting those plans as “appointees of Republican Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli on the commission – and several appointees of Mayor Eric Adams.”
Statements from the commissioner’s official votes did not mention the previously proposed Hell’s Kitchen split, focusing instead largely on the brewing conflict over potentially redistributing some of Staten Island’s three districts into Brooklyn. Commissioner Mike Schnall of Staten Island argued against the move, which would move a thousands of Brooklyn residents into one of Staten Island’s districts.
“I am adamantly opposed to the addition of approximately 16,000 people from Brooklyn to Council District 50,” he argued. “This move disenfranchises those 16,000 people who deserve adequate and accessible representation. They will have to pay a $20 toll and drive 10 miles to see their council member. This is unfair, inequitable and completely avoidable. This Brooklyn edition dilutes Staten Island’s political power and sets the borough back 10 years in the progress we’ve made to establish ourselves and chart our own path as a borough.”
There were also debates over needing additional time for finalization. “We’ve listened to the testimony, but there’s still a lot to be heard,” said commissioner Lisa Sorin. Commissioner Marc Wurzel added, “I’d rather not meet a deadline or push that deadline to get something right rather than meet the deadline with a less than satisfactory product.”
The commission must submit a finalized map to the City Clerk by December 7, prior to next year’s City Council elections. Commission spokesperson Eddie Borges told City & State that the commission will reconvene and hold a public meeting to debate contested district lines after the Rosh Hashanah holiday, at a date yet to be announced. He stressed that the maps shown in today’s meeting were by no means finalized.
Some local officials were still optimistic that Hell’s Kitchen wouldn’t end up back on the chopping block. District 3 City Council Member Erik Bottcher said: “I’m grateful that the Districting Commission listened to the hundreds of Hell’s Kitchen residents who made their voices heard through the public process, though I wish District 3‘s northern boundary extended further north. While this map wasn’t approved by the Commission today, I’m confident that the Commission will keep Hell’s Kitchen whole in the map’s final iteration.”
Christine Gorman said: “I agree with Citizen’s Union that negotiations between the Commissioners going forward should be held in a public manner. It already seems as though too much is getting decided behind closed doors. I also think the data behind the revised map, even though it was rejected, should be made public. After all, it represents more than 9,000 pieces of testimony from City residents. We have a right to know exactly how our concerns were addressed, in order to evaluate whatever may next come from the Commission or the City Council.”