Civil rights groups working to protect the voting rights of blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans say they have a vision for redrawing state legislative districts in the city to reflect the demographic changes of their communities.
Calling it a "unity map" for new state Assembly and state Senate districts, the groups unveiled a proposal Tuesday in a bid to shape the debate surrounding how election lines are redrawn.
"We now have clear indications of where there has been tremendous expansions by communities, particularly Latino and Asian, and where the black community has shifted," said Esmeralda Simmons, the executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice.
"We want to make sure our communities get their fair share of districts," she said.
State legislative district boundaries are remapped every 10 years to reflect demographic changes demonstrated by the federal census — a politically contentious process is known as redistricting.
The groups said they followed the "one person, one vote" requirement of the U.S. Constitution and mandates of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 in developing their maps — criteria that the designers of any new election maps will have to abide by. They also said they had sought to respect "communities of interest" that are bound by some common denominator, and to try to follow neighborhood lines.
The Center for Law and Social Justice, based at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, developed the district maps with LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Institute for Latino Politics.
The maps take into account the rapid growth of Asians, who now account for 13 percent of the city's 8 million people; and the increase in Hispanics, now 29 percent of the city's population. The maps also aim to protect black districts.
The groups said they submitted the proposal to the state task force responsible for redrawing the legislative district boundaries.
Assemblyman John "Jack" McEneny, a Democratic member of the task force, said they welcomed the proposal and would consider it.
"What we would hope is that it be comprehensive," he said. "No tunnel vision."
Juan Cartagena, the president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, said the maps were a first step.
"It doesn't mean anything until we take the next step and galvanize our communities, looking for the right candidates, and making sure that whoever gets elected from the new district responds to the needs of the community," he said.
It could also be ignored by whoever ends up redrawing the district lines — whether it is a task force or the courts.
But Margaret Fung, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that was unlikely to happen.
"It makes more sense for them to recognize the demographic change," she said.