Southern Brooklyn

Fidler: Reform Voting Rights Act To Better Reflect Realities Of Brooklyn Communities (Op-Ed)

The current and proposed lines for the 48th District of the City Council. The process has sparked controversy, as Russian-Americans gain influence under the new lines, and Orthodox Jews appear to lose influence.

Our open thread yesterday kicked off with a look at the redistricting process, which seems to be pitting local Russian-Americans against local Orthodox Jews for influence in the 48th Councilmanic District, currently represented by Michael Nelson. We very briefly reflected, with a dose of sarcasm, about the role race, ethnicity and religion plays in the process. That post elicited the following e-mail from Councilman Lew Fidler, who represents the neighboring 46th District:

Photo by Erica Sherman

Race and ethnicity, though not religion, are an integral part of redistricting, like it or not. In fact, federal law makes it so.

Kings County is a jurisdiction covered by the Federal Voting Rights Act. Redistricters are compelled to ensure that protected classes of minority voters – such classes are specified in the statute – do not lose maximal representation when district lines are drawn. (We are a Voting Rights County based upon discriminatory voting patterns from long, long ago.)

Southern Brooklyn has been ripped apart in both council redistricting (by the commission) and congressional redistricting (by the federal court) in large part due to the Voting Rights Act as applied to the unique demographics of Brooklyn.

There is no venal intent here… let me explain.

Central Brooklyn, which is the hub of minority (“Voting Rights”) districts, has shrunk in relative population. In order to maintain these districts as minority districts under the law, the non-minority population must be manipulated and integrated into minority districts; not so much as to shift the numbers to make the district non-minority, but enough to get the district up to a full population. Naturally, it is those neighborhoods with non-minority populations that are adjacent to the minority districts that get dragged into them.

For example, that is why the 45th District currently represented by Jumaane Williams, short on minority population, reached south into the non-minority neighborhoods of Flatbush/Midwood for its additional population. In fact, this does do violence to the neighborhood integrity of that community, and for these voters, it is grossly unfair.

But, to be clear, it is not because the redistricting commission had a conscious plan to “screw” Flatbush or any particular religious community. They are straining to find a way to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

A Federal Court Master drew the congressional lines. The same mechanics resulted in Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay being drawn as vestigial parts into the district “represented” by Congresswoman Yvette Clarke.

Similarly with those south of us and in Howard Beach, who were drawn into Congressman Hakeem Jeffries’ district.

My view is that the Voting Rights Act needs to be reformed to reflect modern realities while maintaining its protections against discriminatory practices. There needs to be greater flexibility when a constituency recedes as part of the relative population of a county. For the first time that I am aware of since Kings County became a Voting Rights county, some communities (think Fort Greene) are going from being minority communities to non-minority communities. The law needs to be able to reflect those challenges.

The local argument that Ned has reported on is in fact caused by the application of the Voting Rights Act. Therefore, ethnicity will inevitably and inextricably be a part of the conversation for better or for worse.

– Lew from Brooklyn

P.S. – Of course, Southern Brooklyn was also brutalized by the State Senate lines. That victimization had nothing whatsoever to do with the Voting Rights Act. That was pure political partisan greed on the part of the State Senate Republicans, who carved up our neighborhoods in the most venal redistricting plan most of us have ever seen since the days of Elbridge Gerry.

Comment policy


  1. okay so i know this is serious; that there are people feeling disenfranchised by all this etc etc…but unfortunately I read “federal court master” and suddenly couldn’t think of anything but my D&D days and the “dungeon master” who drew lines and reconfigured parties just to make 14 year old life hideously inconvenient….

    one would think we could have evolved from that by now but examples keep abounding that we’ve not.

  2. Why can’t things just be made simple with the boundaries being co-terminus with the Community Board (15)? That was the original purpose of the boards anyway to have all election districts, police precincts, etc. to either be co terminus or consisting of several community boards (e.g. Congressional districts.) That way everyone would know what district he is in to improve accountability.

    The politicians wouldn’t let that happen so they could continue to gerrymander.

  3. What Fildler leaves out is the the Orthodox moved out of the 48th were done to give his and Seddio candidate in the 46th Assemlyman Alan Maisel. Filder district is now majority minority. Someone should tell Fidler and Seddio it is against the voting rights act to move white voters into a minority district neighborhood to make sure the Thomas Jefferson Club maintains a white council member in a minority district. Mr. Filder is it were only race ethnicity, and not religion religion why did the redistricting committee pick both Russians and Orthodox to move out the of the 46th. You added with voters to your old district while you took out black areas of your old district. It seem your the one defending splitting a community, just not the one you care about.

  4. I understand, but I think CBs were supposed to have changed every ten years or so to take into account for population changes, but that never happened either. The only change in Brooklyn I remember was when CrownHeights/ East Flatbush was split into two boards a long time ago.

  5. I think the whole definition of what is a minority needs to be redefined. The fact is that Caucasions have been deserting the borough being replaced with Muslims and Asians. I believe Brooklyn now is over 50% “minorities”. So what in fact constitutes a “minority? When I was on jury duty about 10 years ago, supposedly with a jury of my peers, there were only two Caucasions among the twelve of us. I believe that jury was a typical one, judging from the general assembly hall. So I ask again, what is a minority?

  6. You include skin color as part of what constitutes one of your “peers”?

    So what say you then on the issue of mulattoes sir!? They are but running rampant with the quadroons in the old Five Points!!!

    …holy heck…

  7. “Gary”-This post barely deserves a reply. The absolute FACT is that not a single white majority census tract was added to the 46th Council District. Several were lost. Same as the rationale for adding white population into the 45th.
    Just in case anyone took this post seriously, I needed to correct the “record”
    Lew from Brooklyn

  8. 2 problems with that BB—
    First, the population of Community Board districts varies widely. It is intended to reflect neighborhoods, not population.
    Second, there are 51 Coiuncil Districts and 59 CB’s.
    Lew from Brooklyn

  9. BB, As the former Chairperson of East Flatbush’s Community Board, I can tell you that there was never an alteration to the border of it’s CB17. It is possible that in the days before Community Boards some other line combined EF and Crown Heights, but I do not believe that Community Board lines ANYWHERE in the City have changed since their inception.
    Lew from Brooklyn

  10. The only fair way to do this would be mathematical. There should be squares of districts, totally regardless of who’s living there. Why should districts be drawn up to give one group of people or another an advantage or a disadvantage? What message does that send to everyone?

    Instead of trying to be race/gender free, society is totally going the other way, creating more trouble between groups, not less. The message from government (and the PC police) these days is to care more about your group, than your country, and even more than getting along with everyone.

    Furthermore, once you put drawing of districts into politicians’ hands, well, you can see the result.

  11. Don’t hold your breath…. There’s a big problem of declining college enrollment of men compared to women, but don’t hold your breath waiting for men to get a special break. Just one example where the current trend is the Owellian “everyone’s equal, but some groups are more equal'”

    If a Caucasian population is stiffed in the gerrymandering in NY, you’re not exactly going to hear howls of politically correct protest. It’s perfectly acceptable to stereotype Gerritsen Beach, hipster neighborhoods, and “old white men”, as I’ve continually seen in these pages. The howls against bias depend upon whom the target is, not upon any principle.

  12. Not sure where you got that from. Not saying anything of the kind. I am just trying to explain the intricacies of a very un-transparent process, and suggesting it is less than perfrect.
    Lew from Brooklyn

  13. I don’t know about the rest of you, but to me the new map would suggest that Bluefish will be playing a much larger role in future elections.

  14. Look at the compositions of the various bodies and then we can discuss whether there is a fix in. And we’ll look again after the city elections.


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