This past weekend, a voting rights rally was held at Rev. Al Sharpton’s House of Justice to denounce federal magistrate Judge Roanne Mann’s congressional redistricting plan. Based on news reports and video excerpts I’ve seen, it seemed more like a political apartheid rally better suited to 1970s South Africa and Rhodesia.
The rally was billed as an effort to raise public awareness of the need to increase black and Latino representation in Congress. The future of Rep. Charlie Rangel’s historic Harlem district was the elephant in the room.
Speaker after speaker declared their support for congressman Rangel and political apartheid. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz said that Rangel’s district should continue to be represented by a black individual. Blacks and Hispanics should have their own districts was the theme sounded on Saturday.
That’s not the spirit of the Voting Rights Act. It’s not supposed to institutionalize racial segregation or create “legacy” districts.
On Saturday, Sen. Adriano Espaillat (an undeclared congressional candidate) declared that “crackers” were trying to keep minorities from moving forward in the city. As he spoke about “crackers,” the audience egged him on. While watching the videotape, it felt like an ugly moment.
For the sake of accuracy, readers should know that districts are usually “cracked” to dilute minority political participation in order to protect white incumbents. No such cracking occurs in Judge Mann’s redistricting proposal.
Imagine reaction to a similar rally in Borough Park where Orthodox Jews there have proposed a creating a predominantly Orthodox congressional district. What if they spoke of “schvartzers” wanting to “shtup” the Chasidim?
Or the outrage if residents of Howard Beach ranted against Magistrate Mann’s map which joined their neighborhood with the “moolies” in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Someone among those speakers should have exhibited Brooklyn City Councilman David Greenfield‘s courage to denounce a “ghetto” when the Senate Republicans proposed a “super Jewish” senate district.
State senator Adriano Espaillat declared that court’s remapping of the Rangel district to have a 55% Hispanic majority lays the groundwork for twenty years of “nuclear political war” between blacks and Latinos.
Nuclear war? Really!
When did these peacefully co-existing neighbors become Israel and Iran? This is electoral politics, not a life and death struggle where one party denies the other’s right to existence. This political panderer need to get a grip.
As I have written before, this effort to create a district capable of electing a “Dominican” to Congress is misguided and illegal. Racial and ethnic political rivalries (“the Puerto Ricans have two seats, the Dominicans should have one, too”) have no place in this discussion.
Magistrate Mann properly proposed to let the Rangel district continue its natural demographic trend. She could not magically make black residents appear out of thin air. She was appointed special master, not special “magician.”
Fair-minded New Yorkers know that redistricting is not a tool for rigging election outcomes favoring any race, national group, political party or incumbent official. In the absence of the state legislature’s action, the federal court – a long-time friend of minorities— was forced to weigh in.
We are free to express our disappointment. No one, especially elected officials, should be free to racially demagogue the efforts of Judge Mann.
UPDATE: The NY Daily News editorialized (“Keith Wright and Adriano Espaillat play race card in district squabble“) against the racially divisive remarks at that House of Justice rally on Saturday.