Local electeds and prominent community officials in Brooklyn are calling on state leaders to redraw the outline of a district that includes parts of coastal Kings County and lower Manhattan.
The map, drawn by state Democratic leadership after last year’s census count revealed that New York was losing a seat in Congress, significantly changes the layout of the 7th Congressional District, currently represented by Nydia Velázquez. Most notably, Sunset Park, Gowanus, and Park Slope have been sliced out of her district and added to the new NY-11 with Bay Ridge and Staten Island. The move is likely to turn CD11, a swing district represented by Republican Nicole Malliotakis, into a more comfortable win for future Democratic candidates.
It also cuts Sunset Park off from northern Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Lower East Side nearly 30 years after they were drawn together when the state was redistricted in 1992. The strong coalition between Asian American and Pacific Islander and Latino communities forms “backbone” of the district, says a letter sent from Brooklyn local elected officials and community members to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Monday.
“During that time frame, the important cultural ties of these communities have been recognized by multiple courts and kept together within the same congressional district,” the letter says. “Continuing to keep the Chinatowns of Lower Manhattan and Sunset Park, and their surrounding Latino communities united with North Brooklyn is especially important as we confront the rise in anti-Asian hate and seek to empower communities of color.”
Councilmembers Alexa Avilés, who represents Sunset Park, Jennifer Gutiérrez, who represents Bushwick and parts of Ridgewood, Queens, and Lincoln Restler, who represents Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and other north Brooklyn neighborhoods, all attached their names to the letter, alongside assembly District Leaders Kristina Naplatarski and Samy Nevir Olivares and dozens of neighbors.
Maps proposed by the state’s Independent Redistricting Committee, which ultimately failed to produce a final product, and the Unity maps drawn in partnership with local community and legal organizations by the CUNY Center for Law and Justice all kept Sunset Park connected to the rest of the district, the letter says, a sign of the importance of keeping CD-7’s more than 700,000 constituents within the same boundaries. Velázquez was not immediately available for comment.
“The communities of Sunset Park, the Lower East Side and Bushwick that make up the core of today’s #NY07 are culturally and historically connected,” Avilés tweeted. “The creation of this district in the 1990s was a Voting Rights Act win that advanced Latino representation.”
“Williamsburg and Sunset Park are two of the primary environmental justice communities in New York City,” Restler said. “With large, historic Latino communities. They have many common challenges, and I worry that their respective voices will be diluted in two different districts.”
In pushing the new 7th district into Ozone Park, the legislature has ensured that it remains majority-Hispanic, the key reason the district was created in 1992. But demographics aren’t equivalent to the relationships formed between neighborhoods, Restler said.
“I think that the common interests we face between Sunset Park and the south side of Williamsburg are far greater than anything having to do with Ozone Park, where most people in our communities have sparingly ever been to,” he said.
The move doesn’t just cut Sunset Park off from the neighborhoods it has such deep connections with — it takes away Rep. Velázquez, its longtime representative and champion for the neighborhood, said Whitney Hu, Director for Civic Engagement and Research at Churches United for Fair Housing and a Sunset Park resident.
“Underneath the Trump administration, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) was waiting in Sunset Park,” she said. “And we had a representative that broke up and went to bat and part of Nydia’s organizing around Know Your Rights also knew that people who were taken or kidnapped was a lot less than if we didn’t had a representative using her microphone.”
Velázquez’s office is an integral source of support and information for the community — especially for people facing problems with immigration and deportation. If Malliotakis suddenly becomes the neighborhood’s representative, even for a short while, constituents would be without a trusted, safe place to turn, Hu said. The Democratic party’s larger goal of flipping a district and gaining a house seat could come at the expense of people who need a representative who knows and cares about them.
“A few days ago I was at a press conference with Schumer, with Antonio Reynoso, with Jumaane (Williams) and a number of other elected officials where there was an announcement being made about a $25 million investment in infrastructure for offshore wind,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director of the Sunset Park-based climate justice organization UPROSE. “And I went home, and I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, this is probably the first time in our history where we have the political muscle to move solutions that are going to be able to address the threat of climate change, bring jobs, address health disparities, strengthen social cohesion, this is a real blessing.'”
Then, she learned about the newly-drawn districts and the speed at which the state government is likely to cast their votes to approve them, and was shocked by the lack of transparency the process had entailed. With practice as an attorney, she feels the sudden changes violate the Voting Rights Act.
“When the entire country right now is being held captive by the diminishing voting rights for racially marginalized communities, it really is an affront to hear that Democrats would engage with that too, here in this district,” Yeampierre said.
Sunset Park has been at work on “transformational” change, she said, and some of the issues they’re tackling — especially those related to climate change — and they need political support to make that happen, she said.
“It’s a risky move with our lives, right, with our future,” Yeampierre said. “This is an industrial waterfront working-class community. We’re talking about a green reindustrialization, we’re talking about bringing in state and federal investments. And even bringing in a rookie congressperson who doesn’t have the gravitas in Congress that we need in the face of climate change when we are really trying to decarbonize this community and make it a model of what can happen in other communities — it’s really a lack of vision. And political play at the expense of the lives of people in the neighborhood.”
Hu wished Democrats had tried to gain traction in the right-leaning parts of southern Brooklyn to really gain votes and support, rather than relying on gerrymandering.
“As somebody who organizes, I’m worried about how close the sort of right-wing ideology is coming to Sunset Park, and to immigrant groups when we’ve seen hate crimes rise up not just against Asians but against Latinos rise post-Trump,” she said. “I think, for me, it’s like, you take away our champion, our representative who I think has made a lot of us feel safe in certain ways, and seen and reflected, in the hopes that we flip this district.”
Right now, the most likely Democrat to take the seat is centrist Max Rose, who announced late last year that he was running against Malliotakis to take back the seat he held for one term. He is facing an opponent in the primary – the more-progressive Brittany Ramos DeBarros.
The proposed maps aren’t a sure thing, and need to be approved by both chambers of the state government in a vote that may happen as soon as this week, and by Gov. Kathy Hochul.