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Bronx Breakdown: Ridiculous Redistricting

The Bronx Breakdown is back this week with perplexing and much less violent (at least compared to last week) news this Friday — the curious redistricting lines drawn between the borough’s 33rd and 34th senate districts. Let’s break it on down.

The Norwood News headquarters is located across the street from the north entrance to Williamsbridge Oval Park. Like the rest of Norwood, it neatly fits inside the 33rd Senate District, currently represented by Gustavo Rivera.

If the new redistricting lines drawn by a legislative task force are implemented, we would still be in the 33rd, but the park, directly across the street to the south, would be part of the 34th District, which Jeff Klein represents. Walk one block north and you’re back in Klein territory. Two blocks east? Klein again. The NN office would essentially be on a Rivera peninsula jutting into a sea of Klein.

The rest of the district borders in Norwood and Bedford Park are similarly schizophrenic. It’s as if the redistricting committee wanted to create a labyrinth out of the 33rd District, a Rorschach test for map readers.

In any case, it’s ridiculous and one of the many reasons why the New York Public Interest Research Group called the new redistricting proposal “clearly the most gerrymandered lines in recent New York history.”

With good reason, the proposal was broadly lambasted at a recent hearing.

“Our community will again be sliced and diced,” said Barbara Stronczer of the Bedford-Mosholu Community Association. Mosholu Parkway would mostly be part of Rivera’s district, but a block or two to the north or south on various spots and you’re in Klein land.

Greg Lobo-Jost, a Norwood resident and deputy director of the University Neighborhood Housing Program, said his apartment building, a traditionally middle-class building, was carved, with surgical precision, into Klein’s district. He said the maps reminded him of the old practice of redlining, where banks literally drew lines around the worst neighborhoods and didn’t serve them.

The new district lines may look random and haphazzard (or like an insect Transformer), but they are not. These lines were clearly drawn to give Klein more white, upper- and middle-class constituents, basically giving him a monopoly on that particular Bronx demographic. Let’s just take a look at what his roster would be if this plan goes through. He would have the entire east Bronx, including Throgs Neck, Country Club and City Island, plus Morris Park, the nice blocks in Norwood and Bedford Park, the nice parts of Kingsbridge Heights (including Van Cortlandt Village) as well as all of Riverdale.

As Fernando Tirado, the district manager of Community Board 7, put it, “The lines were drawn for no other purpose than allowing an elected official to handpick his own constituents.”

The 34th District was already ultra-gerrymandered to fit the voting needs of Guy Velella, for years the Bronx’s lone Republican stalwart before being sent to jail for lying on a loan application. Now it’s being uber-gerrymandered to benefit Klein who is openly cozy with the senate’s slim Republican majority, which is making the final calls on the senate’s new redistricting lines. If Republicans can’t have a Velella in the Bronx anymore, they are doing everything they can to keep Klein there.

Now, this is not to criticize Klein (although he isn’t complaining about the new lines). Klein’s positioning as a moderate voice between the two parties last year helped Albany enjoy one of it’s most productive sessions in years (if not decades).

But these lines will hurt the communities of Norwood and Bedford Park, which share so many similarities in terms of demographics and socio-economic needs.

Don Bluestone, the feisty, blunt and outspoken head of the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, which serves kids and families from both sides of the parkway, may have summed it up best.

“This is a poor community,” he said. “Part of the reason it is poor, and has gotten poorer, is because it cannot speak with one voice.” He went on: “To break up what little political influence we have — you’re going to devastate this community.”

Rivera said the biggest problem is the redistricting process itself, which he has vocally called for reforming with some kind of independent redistricting panel charged with creating new districts.

Hopefully they would see the simple beauty of clean lines that keep communities together.

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