Monday, March 28, 2011

Upper Manhattan Congressional District Under Attack

The historic Upper Manhattan Congressional District, which has only had two representatives in its storied history yet has had more impact on Congressional accomplishments than any district in the country, is now facing potential elimination.

New York State Losing 2 Congressional Seats

As we stated in December 2010:
New York State will lose two of its 29 US House seats starting with the 2012 elections based on the 2010 Census. Congressional seats are apportioned amongst the 50 states based on the data from the census that occurs every 10 years. Though New York State gained population during the period from 2000 to 2010, its growth of less than 3% was too slow to keep up with the nearly 10% growth in the US Population since 2000. There are 435 seats in the US House of Representatives because of Federal law, and the faster growing states gain seats while slower growing and shrinking states lose seats. As the US population has moved westward and southward, Nevada, Florida, and other beneficiaries of population movement have gained seats while New York and New Jersey have lost seats. New York's slow growth will result in the loss of two seats in the 2012 elections.

The New York State Legislature will draw new lines for US House districts in 2011. Some other states use commissions, but New York's process is fully political. The apparently-Republican-controlled State Senate, the Democratic-controlled Assembly, and the Democratic Governor will need to agree on the US House lines. It will likely be an ugly and frustrating process as the two parties attempt to gain an advantage versus each other while shrinking our Congressional delegation.

Governor Cuomo has proposed legislation that would create a redistricting commission to decide the new lines instead of the state legislature. Thus far, the Cuomo proposal has not been embraced by the State Senate's Republican leadership, which has suggested that the plan is more appropriate for the redistricting that will occur after the 2020 Census. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch has been pushing for a non-partisan approach, but his approach has not gained any greater momentum in Albany than the Cuomo plan has.

Potential Threat to Upper Manhattan's District

Reports have emerged suggesting that the New York State Legislature may attempt to redraw the Upper Manhattan Congressional District to pick up large portions of the Bronx and Westchester County. The District would be centered outside of Manhattan, and the history of the District would be undermined.

Because Manhattan benefits from having four Congressional Districts rather than a smaller number, and because the Upper Manhattan District is both historic and has a history of achievement, Manhattan residents should make the effort to keep the Upper Manhattan District a top priority.

As we stated in December 2010:
In Manhattan, where our population has grown, we hope to essentially maintain our current map while the two seats are lost in upstate New York, which was the source of the lost population and slow growth in New York that created the need to reduce our number of US House seats. But, by losing two seats, our State Legislature may be tempted to tamper with the district maps in Manhattan and in the other parts of the New York City metro area. Manhattan residents should work together to discourage major changes to our district maps.

Charlie Rangel's Upper Manhattan seat is historic and must be protected. It has only been help by two people, and it is the first "Black" district to emerge on the national stage. Charlie Rangel and his predecessor, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., have been the most productive and successful legislators in the history of our country. Adam Clayton Powell was the first Black member of Congress from New York State. The people of Upper Manhattan should pro-actively come together to push the State Legislature to make as few changes as possible to Charlie Rangel's historic district in the upcoming redistricting. We cannot imagine a higher priority in the next few months, given that the new district lines will likely be in place for the next 10 years.

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