One county, one district? Activist pushes for a single Hudson congressional district
A person who comes to Hudson County might assume his congressional representative is Robert Menendez. Menendez grew up in Hudson, has offices in Hudson and is always featured in local newspaper articles. It's not an outrageous assumption, considering Menendez does represent most of the county and most of Jersey City. But he doesn't represent all of it. Some Jersey City residents, for one, are lumped in the 9th Congressional District, which includes Englewood Cliffs and Fort Lee in Bergen County. Well, Ira Jersey wants to change all this, and he has a plan. For Jersey (his real name), the district lines are a source of constant frustration. So he created his own group, dubbed "One Hudson, One District." As a Greenville resident, he feels much of Hudson County is under-represented. "I know that the three individuals [Donald Payne, Robert Menendez, Steven Rothman] who represent the different areas of Hudson County attempt to represent all
(Jersey's emphasis) their constituents," wrote Jersey in a letter to the state legislature. "However, it is difficult for me to believe that with a majority of the voters in two of the congressional districts outside of Hudson County, these representatives can give the attention that Hudson County deserves." Now Jersey has drafted a petition he plans to forward to the state. The petition asks to create one district for the county. "I think all of Hudson County should be in the 13th Congressional District," Jersey said last week. "Bayonne and Greenville are in a district that consists almost entirely of Newark in Essex County. No offense to Congressman Payne (D-10th Dist.), but I find it difficult to believe he is able to effectively represent the needs of a small area of Jersey City and [Bayonne] while most of his votes and contributions come from Newark. It is almost impossible for someone from Hudson County to win this seat - and that is wrong." In fact, Hudson County was once one district, but the loss of population between 1980 and 1990 reduced the number of seats in the House of Representatives from 14 to 13. That loss caused a major redrawing in 1990. Jersey will have an uphill battle in this effort, but he does have someone from the state on his side, Assemblyman and Bayonne Mayor Joseph V. Doria (D-31st Dist). Doria has written a letter in support of Jersey's plan, but not without some warning. "There is no way any one person can control this process," Doria wrote. "Let me assure you that I would be supportive of trying to consolidate Hudson into two or even one district if this is possible." Others disagree
But both Steven Rothman (D-9th Dist.) and Bob Menendez (D-13th Dist.) see the reconsolidation of Jersey City and Hudson as a negative. "Originally, I was disappointed," said Menendez of the 1990 splitting of Hudson County. "But then I came to learn over the past eight years that having three votes [for the county] is a powerful thing." That's because the votes have turned Hudson into a powerful voting bloc. For instance, explains Menendez, the additions of Kearny, Jersey City, North Bergen and Secaucus to Rothman's predominantly Bergen district turned a "marginal district" into one that wields more power in Washington. Rothman agrees. "If it had only one representative in Congress," said Rothman in a press release, "Hudson County would have less weight in Congress...How would Hudson County have more weight if it was represented by only one Congressman? I like my district just the way it is." As for the question of representation? "I don't come from Jersey City," said Menendez, a Union City native, "but I think I represent my constituency well. If you talk to the mayors of Linden, Perth Amboy and Newark, they would say I've done well by them." "It's the member that makes the difference," he continued, "not the district." Breakdown
The representation shakes out this way: Steve Rothman, out of Hackensack, gets the Heights, parts of Ward C and only one district in B. Donald Payne, from Newark, has parts of the West Side, most of Bergen-Lafayette and Greenville. Menendez gets parts of every ward except the Heights. Only one district, however, contains a majority of Hudson County residents: the 13th. And even that district splits itself among Essex, Middlesex and Union Counties. It's clear that the district lines were created to comprise certain "urban centers" and "suburban centers." In a rough way, the ninth seems to be a mostly suburban, affluent district. The 10th and the 13th tend to represent the core urban areas like Newark, Elizabeth, Jersey City and Perth Amboy. Though the Supreme Court has mandated that lines cannot be drawn, or gerrymandered, for partisan purposes, and an early 1990s case stated that race cannot be a dominant factor in determining district lines, oftentimes lines tend to turn out that way. Redrawing of lines occurs every 10 years, after the census is completed. The state legislature, upon the recommendation of a redistricting committee comprised of party leaders, approves the lines that will be used for the next 10 years. It's unclear how the districts will look next year, but Menendez doesn't foresee any dramatic changes. "We'll lose about 30,000 (people) in the 13th," he said, "but it's not a major loss." He thinks the influx of waterfront residents in West New York, Jersey City and Hoboken will make up for the shortfall.