Asian Americans Continue Push For Their Own Assembly District

A map of the Assembly Districts that have an Asian-American population above 20 percent. (Source: Citizens Union via Brooklyn Ink)

With the claim that the Asian vote in Western Brooklyn is too diluted, Asian-American civic groups continue to advocate for a majority Asian New York State Assembly District – comprised of sections of Sunset Park, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst, writes the Brooklyn Ink.

After their public hearing last month, the New York State Legislative Task Force is expected to release a first draft of new district lines this month. District boundaries are redrawn every ten years to reflect demographic changes in the latest census results.

From Brooklyn Ink:

If drawn correctly, districts should be areas of people that share some a common denominator. The law also stipulates that it must be contiguous and reasonably compact: its length should be no more than twice its width.
“We’re seeing in places like Sunset Park—and we’re seeing throughout New York—that the Asian population is currently at 20 percent or more and we think that could necessitate, or in theory you could argue for, the creation of more Asian-American districts,” says Rachael Fauss, the Policy and Research Manager for Citizens Union.
Research from the group shows that 15 assembly districts in the state have Asian-American populations of more than 20 percent and three are at 40 percent or more— not that you would ever know it by looking at the state legislature. No Asian-American has ever won an election in Brooklyn and currently, there is only one Asian-American representative, Grace Meng of Queens in a lower house made up of 212 legislators.
Meng’s district encompasses Flushing and was created during the last redistricting in 2000 to better represent the flourishing Chinatown in Queens. The new lines helped lead to Meng’s election as the first Asian-American in the state legislature.
“They drew that with kind of an eye towards empowering the Asian-American community,” says James Hong who works with the MinKwon organization and the Asian-American Community Coalition On Redistricting and Democracy (ACCORD). “I feel that everybody thinks that was well done.”

While the new boundaries must be drawn before next fall, representatives from ACCORD say many misunderstand the group’s motivation as being simply a ploy to get more Asians into elected office.

“We’ve said over and over again that this is not purely an attempt to get more Asian-Americans into office,” Hong said.  “Though if the districts happen the way we want them, that may happen in the next few years.”

Hong reminded the group’s critics that they are not lobbying for specific candidates or those of any particular race, but simply advocating for equal representation for the Asian community.

“There are—and I think there will be—some white candidates or candidates of other ethnicities that represent an Asian community well and vice versa. You don’t necessarily have to have an Asian representative to represent an Asian community. That’s never been part of our platform.”

Measured statements such as these indicate how public supporters of the Unity Map often have to walk a fine line when offering the precise reasons behind their proposal.

The Brooklyn Ink article cites the case of  Shaw v. Reno, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, while race could not be the main factor in drawing district lines, it could be one of several.

Jerry Vattamalla, a staff attorney for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, told Brooklyn Ink that it’s not enough for an area to be dominated by one group to call for redrawing district boundaries. Residents would also need to “vote similarly and have similar interests.” Other commonalities the city taskforce will look at include common cultural background; shared language and language access needs; media markets; immigrant concerns; and public transportation.

Vattamalla says the amount of time and intense analysis that goes into the process is due to the large number of competing interests. Voters already grouped together in current districts may also have concerns about being split up, potentially sacrificing neighborhood unity for a majority Asian-American district – a drawback Bensonhurst Bean recently touched on. “Nobody wants their community divided. That’s something the task force will have to decide on,” he said.