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A local civic group says the New York City Council Redistricting Commission tried to keep opposing testimony off its website

Locals: Redistricting Commission whitewashed dissent

Brooklyn Daily
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The aim is to create a “Super Russian” Council district in Sheepshead Bay, but some locals say the tactics smack of the old Soviet Union.

The New York City Council Redistricting Commission’s plan to redraw the 48th Council District around the Russian-immigrant enclave of Little Odessa has provoked a backlash from other ethnic groups in the area, but for weeks before and after a public hearing on the matter, you wouldn’t know it from the testimonies on the commission’s website.

The commission posted nearly a dozen written testimonies — all heartily in favor of the plan — on the city’s website prior to its Jan. 10 public hearing, and they remained the only posted testimonies for more than two weeks afterward, giving a false impression of unanimous public support despite a rancorous hearing and hundreds of submitted testimonies railing against the new lines, according to a letter to speaker Christine Quinn from the South Brooklyn Community Coalition, a multi-ethnic umbrella group of local activists.

“It has caused great confusion and anger among our communities that hundreds of written testimonies against the proposal sent to the Commission weeks ago, just became publicly available today [Jan. 25] after many weeks delay, while the opposition’s self-interested testimony has been viewable for over a month,” read the letter, which was signed by community leaders representing a “rainbow coalition” of Pakistani, Turkish, Orthodox Jewish, Hispanic, Greek, Muslim, and Asian constituents in the district.

The commission denied the allegations of favoritism, claiming in a terse statement, “testimonies submitted from community groups and the public are put on the website as we receive them.”

The original 48th District testimonies in favor of the proposed lines were submitted on Christmas, while the letters posted Jan. 25 were submitted on Jan. 9, or on Jan. 10 — the date of the Brooklyn hearing — according to a source at the commission. Much of the dissenting testimony came in the form of a 300-page file, which commission personnel had to vet and reformat before it could be posted on the website, said the source.

That explanation doesn’t satisfy attorney Natraj Bhushan of Brighton Beach, who says he submitted his opposing testimony individually through the commission’s website before the Jan. 10 hearing.

“I think that’s the most glaring thing of the entire process, that there was no opposition on their website,” said Bhushan. “I can confirm for you that I submitted a written testimony. It was submitted timely, before the hearing, and I haven’t seen it on the website.”

Opponents of the current draft, which would realign the 48th Council District to have a 50-percent Russian-American population, say that the new lines undermine the democratic process — not to mention the political clout of minority groups

“Our community has a fine history of working together, and electing candidates of different backgrounds. We do not need to fix that which is not broken. The need to promote one group over all other groups in the 48th council district does not comply with the letter, spirit, or intent of the Voting Rights Act,” read the South Brooklyn Community Coalition’s letter to Christine Quinn.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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