BY JON CRONIN
Accurate community and cultural representation was a recurring theme at the first testimony hearing of the New York City Charter Review Commission on May 3 at the Flushing Library.
The meeting was sparsely attended, but of the few who testified before the charter commission, several believed that a lack of term limits for community board members resulted in an inaccurate reflection of the changing demographics of the communities the boards represent.
Cesar Perales, chairman of the City Charter Revision Commission, said that the charter is being revisited. He explained that Mayor Bill de Blasio is looking to make elections more democratic, get more voters registered, make the city fairer and create more opportunities to run for office.
Over the two hours of testimony in the auditorium of the library, residents spoke about prudent community representation on community boards and in government.
John Kelly, a member of Community Board 11, discussed community board term limits.
“Across the city our community boards are failing in the same ways. Positions are essentially lifelong appointments,” he said.
Kelly said he believed that after decades of serving on community boards, members begin to judge residents’ efforts, rather than partner with them to improve the community. He believes that if a resident wants to get a community board to view an idea favorably, he or she often needs to have a friend on the board.
Kelly stated that “without strong oversight,” community board members will vote for items that benefit them personally or financially.
“One answer to this is to implement term limits,” Kelly said.
He suggested that if members only serve for eight to 10 years, the old-guard will not be so influential and new voices in the community will not become discouraged from serving.
James Hong, the co-director of the MinKwon Center in Flushing, stated that he is concerned about the gerrymandering of City Council districts and that redistricting dilutes the voices of certain populations. He said that in 2012, the Minkwon Center and 13 other groups engaged the city, state and federal levels regarding redistricting.
He claims that in 2012, his group saw behind-the-scenes political operatives—including former elected officials—influencing decisions of the City Council district boundaries. Hong said that redistricting increased voter dilution in Bayside. He suggested that the charter should be changed, so that former politicians or political operatives could not serve on redistricting commissions. Hong also recommended that new redistricting commissions not be posted by elected officials.
“The conflict of interest is tremendous,” Hong said.
Annetta Seecharran, a charter revision commissioner, pointed out that “the South Asian population in Queens is quite significant, and there is no South Asian representative. Specifically, in Richmond Hill there have been South Asian candidates running since the 1970s consistently, and [they] have gained very little inroads.”
Perales said that the commission will be “looking very hard at redistricting.”
John Cho, a Flushing resident, testified before the board regarding the better representation of Flushing’s population on the local community board. He noted that the 2010 Census stated that 52 percent of the population of Community Board 7 is of Asian descent.
“The demographics are not reflected in those appointed to serve on and officially represent Community Board 7,” Cho said.
He noted that the demographics of CB 7’s members are 54 percent white, 38 percent Asian, 6 percent black and 2 percent Hispanic.
“One hundred percent of the community board’s leadership is white,” Cho said. “While I cannot provide age statistics, I can tell you that very few are 40 years or younger. We have too many entrenched people who are disconnected from the neighborhoods they represent.”