FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 22, 2022
Contact: Faraz Toor, [email protected], 347-853-2980
Leading good government group calls for City Council redistricting commissioners who will not engage in gerrymandering, will ensure transparency, and have not served in an elected office for the past five years.
The report is part of Citizens Union’s work to monitor the City Council redistricting process, made possible through a grant from New York Community Trust.
To view report, click here
New York, N.Y. (February 22, 2022) — Citizens Union today issued a report outlining measures to ensure a fair City Council redistricting process. Fair and Open City Council Redistricting recommends the city appoint City Council redistricting commissioners who will adopt expansive anti-gerrymandering criteria, ensure transparency and have not served in an elected office for the past five years.
The City Charter mandates that the City Council and the Mayor appoint commissioners to a Districting Commission that will redraw Council districts’ boundaries to reflect population changes based on the 2020 Census. In the coming year, the Districting Commission will have to draw new borders in a city that has undergone significant demographic shifts in the past ten years.
The Charter-mandated timeline requires the Districting Commission to produce the first draft of maps by June 7, 2022.
“It is imperative that the Districting Commission be held to guidelines and expectations that will ensure this decennial redistricting is conducted with New York City residents’ best interests at heart,” said Betsy Gotbaum, Executive Director of Citizens Union. “Often, there is too close a connection between those who draw the district lines and those who appoint them.”
To ensure a fair process and to ensure Council districts are drawn to provide fair representation for all of New York’s communities, recommendations outlined in Fair and Open City Council Redistricting, which you can read here, include:
- The Commission should adopt expansive anti-gerrymandering criteria for drawing district lines which states that City Council districts should not be drawn with an intent to favor or oppose any political party, an incumbent legislator, or any previous or presumed candidate for office.
- The Commission should release any underlying population data used to prepare the maps, comprehensive details on the process, the major issues and factors affecting the composition of each district, and the justification for the final lines.
- The Mayor and City Council should appoint a Commission that is diverse and representative of New York City by expanding considerations for commissioners to include factors like gender, age, geographical representation, and membership in minor parties.
- The Mayor and City Council should refrain from appointing people to the Districting Commission who served in an elected office in the past five years, in order to minimize partisan bias and favoritism. Former elected officials typically keep a close relationship with current incumbents or future candidates who would be affected by the redrawing of district maps. We were pleased that the Council’s appointments did not include former elected officials.
- The Commission should prioritize maximum transparency and public participation, including by:
- providing increased language and disability access.
- having Districting Commission proceedings be open to the public.
- making public all materials related to its operations and meetings.
- holding preliminary public hearings, with at least one hearing in every borough, and scheduling some hearings for evenings and weekends.
- The Commission should provide the public with online mapping software to directly contribute ideas about potential districts.
- Commissioners and the executive director should disclose any meetings with elected officials or their representatives. Commissioners or staff members who discuss maps and plans with individuals who are not affiliated with the Commission should file a disclosure form.
- The Commission should publish a Conflicts of Interest policy, with guidance from the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board, that addresses their political affiliations and relationships with incumbents or potential City Council candidates.
- The Mayor should provide the Commission with immediate funding so it can begin its work the moment it is established and hire technical, management, and communication staff, obtain expert opinions and organize public hearings.
“Although the current redistricting system used by the city is slightly more independent and fairer than the one used to draw state legislative and congressional lines, the Districting Commission remains vulnerable to politicization because all its members are directly chosen by elected officials,” said Gotbaum. “This report’s recommendations would create stronger safeguards against politicization, and help create an open, fair, and independent redistricting process.”
New York City’s redistricting cycle this year marks the first time it will be done without preclearance, meaning the city is not required to obtain approval from the U.S. Justice Department that its new maps do not violate the Voting Rights Act, due to a 2013 Supreme Court decision. With City Council Members holding unique powers to directly impact New Yorkers’ lives, a politicized redistricting process that leaves some communities unfairly partitioned could lead to them being unfairly ignored. Reduced public investment and services in education, health, and other areas could then follow.
Fair and Open City Council Redistricting was written by Ben Weinberg, Director of Public Policy, with additional support from the Policy Committee of Citizens Union. This report is made possible with support from the New York Community Trust.
Citizens Union has closely monitored all City Council redistricting cycles since the current process was implemented following a 1989 overhaul of city government.
In the coming months, Citizens Union Foundation will provide New Yorkers with the resources and training to engage with the process, testify before the Commission, and offer community input. Community groups are welcome to contact us at [email protected]
For follow up, please contact Faraz Toor at Anat Gerstein, Inc. at [email protected], 347-853-2980
About Citizens Union
For 125 years, Citizens Union has been a force for transparency, accountability and ethics in New York’s City and State governments. A nonpartisan organization, some of our current initiatives include a new agenda for police accountability, monitoring the City Council’s redistricting process and increasing civic engagement. Learn more at www.citizensunion.org.