“The thing that is troubling to me is the way in which this threatens African-American political power,” said Michael Henry Adams, a Harlem historian and one-time candidate for local office. “African-Americans have historically been restricted about where they could live, and after people have lived for generations here public policy, including zoning and tax incentives, will then be used in such a way as to engage in social engineering in changing the neighborhood.”
In the end, Mr. Rangel and his allies may not get to decide. It is the State Legislature that draws the congressional lines, and in Albany legislators weren’t able to come to an agreement, partially due to the dispute between Mr. Heastie and Mr. Wright. On Monday, a federal court judge took over the process. A lawyer representing the Legislature asked if the court will factor in incumbency in drawing the lines, noting that the city and the state are better served by having more senior members of the House as their representatives.
The court demurred. Outside, Juan Cartegna, a lawyer representing the efforts of Latinos to create a new seat, cheered the fact that at last the issue was out of the hands of lawmakers.
“It is the only way these guys in Albany will finally take this seriously. At risk is a plan that would be fair,” he said. “Right now we have been just arguing before three guys in Albany who didn’t want to talk to each other. This is an opportunity.”
But only for some. For most in Harlem, moving their district to the Bronx and beyond is the culmination of a change that has been decades in the making.
“When you associate with the racial and ethnic composition of the community—and tie that to the struggle for civil rights going back to Marcus Garvey and Adam Clayton Powell and then Charlie—there is a certain continuity Harlem residents want to see and which they are seeing fade away,” said Basil Smilke, a political consultant in the neighborhood. “People realize change is coming. Some people meet it with anxiety and some with open arms. Obviously, most politicians are part of that first group.”
Additional reporting by Colin Campbell.