Queens Shift? What City Council Redistricting Means for Roosevelt Island


As it stands now, City Council redistricting brings big change for Roosevelt Island, bigger than you might think but not as big as many fear. Whatever gets burned into law stays for 10 years, starting in 2024. That’s a long haul if they get it wrong. Here’s a closer look.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

What is New York City Council Redistricting?

Just like us. Celebrating the 4th of July in Astoria, Rainy Park, just across the East River from Roosevelt Island.

It’s the process of altering Council district lines to account for population changes. The city is divided into 51 districts, each with about 220,000 residents. Once a decade, after the U.S. Census, these lines are redrawn to make sure each district has roughly the same number of people.

“The commission was tasked with dividing the 2020 census city population of roughly 8.8 million people and by the 51 districts which came to ​​approximately 172,882 residents for each district. In redrawing the maps, they could only deviate of the 172,882 figure by 5%.” –PoliticsNY Interview with Redistricting Commission Chair Dennis Walcott.

And it’s not just simple math. City, State and Federal mandates, like the Voting Rights Act, must be considered.

So, How Did Roosevelt Island Float Into Queens?

“But it’s all based on the analysis of the numbers and the standards we had to meet, “Walcott told PoliticsNY, “and we’re trying to fit it in. That’s how we analyzed it. So we had to move on to add Roosevelt Island to parts of the east side and into Queens district 26.”

In short, it’s a numbers game, but Walcott also stresses that what we have so far is preliminary. More on that later.

First, the pros and cons.

Queens District 26 Pros

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The change in City Council districts doesn’t change anything else for Roosevelt Island. The Rock remains part of Manhattan. No change in ZIP or Area Codes.

It may be a better fit because Roosevelt Island’s community profile more closely resembles that of our middle class neighbors in Astoria. Few if any of the ultra-rich relaxing in one of their several homes on the Upper East Side visit Roosevelt Island let alone live here.

Think about it. Do you think we’d get the shabby treatment we get from Albany if they did? What multibillionaire would tolerate the fumbling, bumbling RIOC crew or the grinding decline of Main Street?

The Pros for Manhattan District 5

These can be summed up with just a few names: Jessica Lappin, Gifford Miller and Julie Menin. All current or former District 5 City Council Members.

In our connection to the Upper East Side, we draw on the best and the brightest in New York politics. Lappin, for example, during her two terms, brought The Tram into the MetroCard system, championed Cornell Tech in competitive bidding and so helped Four Freedoms Park get started that she was asked to sit on their board.

Gifford Miller became City Council President, and Julie Menin has leaped into the fray over multiple struggles on behalf of the community in just six months.

The Upper East Side holds no exclusive franchise on the best and brightest, but experience suggests an incubator there.

So, Where To From Here?

Answering specifically about the District 5 move, Walcott said, “And we look forward again to hearing the feedback and if people have a better sense of how things should be done, we want people to respond that way.”

The next round of public hearings is scheduled for Aug. 15, 16, 17, 18 and 22. A month later, the Commission reports its recommendations to the City Council.

“We value the sensitivity that people bring to their respective communities,” Walcott stressed. “And that’s the process again, we want to emphasize to the public, we want that engagement and that helps us make those type of decisions.”

Similarly, Menin urges constituents to get engaged. Hearings are just a few weeks away, but you needn’t wait that long.

Anyone who would like to submit testimony on the 51 city council maps can write to the commission at publictestimony@redistricting.nyc.gov., right now.

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  1. I’ve been researching this. Below, Points #1 and #2 are the best arguments, especially since Roosevelt Island, the East Side, and the Tram are referenced in the statute(!!!) – see Point #2 below.

    In essence, in addition to below, the main concerns include the impracticalities of breaking Roosevelt Island off CD 5, and the reduction of effective representation for our tiny slice of a district based in Woodside/Sunnyside, which will affect lots of things. For example, CD 5 is all in School District 2, so the CD 5 Councilmember has all his/her schools in School District 2 and can negotiate with strength. If we are in CD 26, we’ll still be in School District 2, but we’re just 7% of that Council District, i.e., a very tiny portion in School District 2 and much weaker negotiations on behalf of our student. The same weakness applies elsewhere if we become part of CD 26.

    Point #1: According to the current plan, significant variances were agreed upon in Staten Island to remain 3 Council Districts, even though their districts are smaller than the standard size of 172,882 persons per district. In total, the Staten Island districts are 22,000 persons smaller – in theory, giving more weight to each Staten Islander’s vote and, in practice, avoiding a Staten Island district being shared with Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Queens. Roosevelt Island should get a similar variance (allowing our 12,000 residents to be part of Council District 5), but this would have the opposite effect than Staten Island: by making RI part of Council District 5 (CD 5), it will lose voting strength, but that is counterbalanced by the other important criteria for remaining in CD 5.

    Point #2: The current plan violates §52(2), which states “Each district shall be contiguous, and whenever a part of a district is separated from the rest of the district by a body of water, there shall be a connection by a bridge, a tunnel, a tramway or by regular ferry service [emphasis added]”. It is abundantly clear that with only ONE Tramway in New York City, and the statute explicitly calling out a “tramway” is a key element of contiguity, that implies Roosevelt Island belongs in CD 5. The Roosevelt Island Bridge does not connect to CD 26 (it connects to CD 22). The Ferry NYC service is limited capacity and not regular service, nor does it provide senior nor other discounted rates nor free transfers necessary for travel.

    Point #3: Roosevelt Island remaining in CD 5 would satisfy the §52(1)(a) criteria: “The difference in population between the least populous and the most populous districts shall not exceed ten percentum (10%) of the average population for all districts”. By adding Roosevelt Island’s 12,000 residents, it would only add 7% above the average, which satisfies this criteria.

    Point #4: Restoring Roosevelt Island to CD 5, as explained below, satisfy the remaining §52(1)(a) criteria: “Any such differences in population must be justified by the other criteria set forth in this section”.

    Point #5: Roosevelt Island is a unique community with longstanding close transportation, employment, and housing ties. The §52(1)(c) criteria states “District lines shall keep intact neighborhoods and communities with established ties of common interest and association, whether historical, racial, economic, ethnic, religious or other”. The present plan violates this criteria. Since the 1970s when Roosevelt Island was created, it has been promoted as “Manhattan’s Other Island” and the Island’s residents are strongly affiliated with CD 5, including:

    – Roosevelt Island residents are part of School District 2, which completely covers CD 5.
    – For residents, most culture, school, and employment ties are on the Manhattan side (not the Queens CD 26) as an overwhelming number of residents commute via the Tram, F train, and Ferry take residents to the Manhattan side, not Queens CD 26 (Woodside, Sunnyside, LIC, Astoria Heights) – there are few community ties to CD 26, especially with a river in between.
    – The NYS agency Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), which has leased Roosevelt Island from the City via a 99-year lease, also has tram operations in CD 5 (the Manhattan side of the tram), and this operation also involves a franchise with the City, which involves negotiations and coordination. It makes no sense to split this into two districts.
    – The Master Lease between NYS (RIOC) and NYC involves a General Development Plan (GDP – our zoning document), of which changes are negotiated between the State and the Mayor, which relies upon the local council member, which has a 52-year history with CD 5, i.e., the institutional memory is in CD 5, with no knowledge within CD 26 (as proposed). Changing the district with 52 years of history, would harm this important representational aspect for Roosevelt Island residents.
    – Manhattan CB8M (along with the GDP) determine zoning issues for Roosevelt Island, but with the new plan CB8M’s efforts on the Master Lease (and GDP) efforts would be split across multiple council districts, thus remaining in CD 5 makes more sense.
    – Two apartment buildings on Roosevelt Island (475 Main St, 465 Main St) were built purposely for staff and students at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MKS) and Weill Cornell (WC) hospitals across the East River and these residents primarily use the Tram for transportation, which is in CD 5.
    – Roosevelt Island has long ties with the United Nations on the Manhattan side, as much of their staff lives on Roosevelt Island, including former Secretary General Kofi Annan who was a resident of Roosevelt Island.

    Point #6: The current geometry of the proposed district (2.01 mi / .87 mi = 2.4 ratio) violates the §52(1)(d) criteria “Each district shall be compact and shall be no more than twice as long as it is wide”. By adding Roosevelt Island, the geometry is 2.35/1.23 = 1.9 ratio, which satisfies the criteria. Furthermore, because Roosevelt Island is now included in CD 26, now CD 26 also violates the §52(1)(d) criteria. The obvious solution is to move Roosevelt Island back to CD 5.

    Point #7: The current plan violates the §52(1)(e) criteria for three adjacent districts “A district shall not cross borough or county boundaries”. In the current plan, Roosevelt Island is in New York County and the rest of CD 26 is in Queens County. Ditto for CD 8 (Manhattan-Bronx) and CD 34 (Queens-Brooklyn), all three are adjacent districts.

    Point #8: The Sutton Place portion of the new plan is in CD 26, which is completely disconnected from the balance of CD26 in Sunnyside, Woodside, etc.. This violates §52(1)(c) (no historical connection) and violates §52(2) “Each district shall be contiguous, and whenever a part of a district is separated from the rest of the district by a body of water, there shall be a connection by a bridge, a tunnel, a tramway or by regular ferry service”. There is no such connection as the nearest bridge, Queensboro, is not part of the Sutton Place area in CD 26.

    Point #9: The current plan conflicts with §52(3), which states “If any district includes territory in two boroughs, then no other district may also include territory from the same two boroughs”. In the present plan, CD 26 (Manhattan-Queens) and the adjacent CD 8 (Manhattan-Bronx) and the adjacent CD 34 (Queens-Brooklyn), all three adjacent districts violate the two borough criteria §52(1)(e) , it is unclear if this is a violation of this criteria.

    Point #10: The current plan violates §52(1)(g), which states “The districting plan shall be established in a manner that minimizes the sum of the length of the boundaries of all of the districts included in the plan”. By merging Roosevelt Island (and Sutton Place) back into CD 5, the extra length of extending CD 26 to Manhattan would be removed and, thus, would reduce district boundary length. Mathematically provably, just looking at the boundaries of CD 5 and CD 26, this is NOT minimizing lengths as a smaller boundary length is possible. Thus, CD 5 should include Roosevelt Island and Sutton Place.

    Point #11: The displacement of Roosevelt Island causes the districting plan to violate most of the statutory criteria, which also violates the first criteria §52(1): “In the preparation of its plan for dividing the city into districts for the election of council members, the commission shall apply the criteria set forth in the following paragraphs to the maximum extent practicable”. Clearly, the current plan violates “maximum extent practicable”. However, Roosevelt Island remaining in CD 5 causes the districting plan to come into compliance with the districting criteria.

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