The Jersey City Ward Commission has approved a new map that modifies the boundary lines of four of the city’s six municipal wards, giving some residents a different representative on the City Council than they’ve had in the past. Residents in one historic downtown neighborhood are less than pleased that the new map splits their community in half and spreads it across two wards. They question whether their neighborhood concerns will still be addressed now that they’ve been shifted into a ward they believe has very different interests and priorities.
As a result of the 2010 U.S. Census, the five-member Ward Commission was tasked with dividing the city’s population of 247,597 into six municipal districts of relatively equal populations.
The new ward map approved Jan. 31 leaves Wards A and D unchanged and makes increases to Wards B, C, and F. The size of downtown Ward E, where the city has experienced the most population growth, had to be reduced.
‘I think it’s going to be a good marriage.’ – Council member Michele Massey
“[Ward E City Councilman] Steve Fulop has always dealt with the issues of the historic districts,” Tony Sandkamp, former president the Van Vorst Park Association, said after a public hearing on the new map. “The Ward F council person has completely different major issues, and until now there has been no historic district in Ward F. So, that’s a concern of the people in our neighborhood, because those issues have always been paramount in Ward E. [Ward F City Councilwoman Michele Massey] will now have to take on issues that haven’t historically been Ward F issues.”
The ward with the largest black population, Ward F is more than 60 percent African American. Crime, education, and increased activities for youth are among the top issues for residents of Ward F, a community that is more working class than Ward E. The ward changes approved last week will reduce Ward F’s black population slightly, from 64 percent to 63 percent.
Despite the fears of Van Vorst residents, Massey said their issues will not be overlooked.
The ideal target population for each ward is 41,266 residents, although the law allows a margin of plus or minus 5 percent. This means each ward must have between 39,203 and 43,329 residents.
Because much of Jersey City’s population growth over the last decade has largely been concentrated downtown, Ward E currently has an official population of 49,640 residents, according to the census. Given this growth, 40 city blocks – and about 6,840 residents – in Ward E had to be shifted into one of the surrounding wards that had too few residents.
The map approved last week extended Ward F north to Columbus Drive, east to Jersey Avenue, and south to the tidewater basin.
Van Vorst Park resident Oona Jackson Moore believes the change will impact the cohesiveness of that community.
“Van Vorst Park is a natural neighborhood. It’s an historic neighborhood. But now they’re splitting our interests because now we can’t move as a collective unit,” said Moore. “We’ll no longer have one voice on the City Council. I understand what they had to do. But I don’t understand why they didn’t leave Van Vorst intact and put Liberty Harbor in Ward F.”
Councilman Fulop agrees. “The historic district is a special thing and they have a sense of community and share similar issues, as they have worked and advocated together,” he said. “The concern is valid that this divides up a community without the city having explored other options. One would think that there are more ways to legally address the population shift.”
City Planner Jeffrey Wenger later explained that, at present, Liberty Harbor has so few residents that putting the housing development in Ward F would not significantly affect the target population numbers needed for Wards E and F.
The addition of a portion of Ward E to Ward F was largely dictated by geography. With Hoboken to its north, the Hudson River to the east, and Ward C to the west approaching its legal population limit, moving 40 blocks of Ward E south was all but inevitable.
Massey: Two is better than one
Moore is also concerned that the division will affect the anti-crime work of Downtown JC Watch, a neighborhood watch group that has members in the historic districts of Van Vorst Park, Paulus Hook, and Hamilton Park.
When asked what issues are of most importance to her neighborhood, Marlene Sandkamp, current president the Van Vorst Park Association, said, “Crime, flooding, taxes, and overdevelopment…This creates an identity crisis when my neighbor a block away is in Ward E and I’m in Ward F. Not that there’s anything wrong with Ward F. I just wish we’d been part of the dialog.”
But Ward F City Councilwoman Michele Massey believes the residents’ interests will be adequately addressed.
“It’s probably better to have two council people interested in your issues than one,” said Massey, who attended the Ward Commission meeting and introduced herself to some of her new constituents. “I think they’ll find that many of their concerns are, in fact, shared by other residents in Ward F. Flooding, for instance, is not just an issue [downtown]. There are flooding issues in other areas of Ward F. There are no issues that they have that I would ignore. I support historic districts. In fact, I’m trying to get my neighborhood designated as an historic district.”
Massey, a resident of McGinley Square, said she lives in a house that is 115 years old and is also concerned about some of the new development planned for her own neighborhood.
“There is power in numbers. So, I think it’s going to be a good marriage,” she added.
Longtime homeowner June Jones, who also attended the public hearing, noted, “Ten years ago, the last time we went through this process, I was in Ward E and was moved into Ward F. So, I’ve been through this experience and it wasn’t traumatic. It was a good thing, it was a good experience. I hope 10 years from now they’ll say the same thing.”
Ward changes elsewhere
While residents of Ward E were the only ones who spoke out at the public hearing last week, residents in three other wards were also affected by the changes.
Ward B, whose population needed to grow by at least 1,512 residents had 10 blocks on the west side of Bergen Avenue between Lexington and Audubon added from Ward F.
Ward C had to grow by at least 2,177 people. To do that, the ward now extends down to the north side of Montgomery.
The city had to complete redistricting by this month, according to City Clerk Robert Byrne. As required by law, the city’s new ward map has been sent to the Secretary of State, the Superintendent of Elections, and the Hudson County Board of Elections.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.