An argument for putting Montclair in just one Congressional District (Town square)
By MARK LURINSKY
Special to Montclair Local
When my wife and I were looking to move from our cramped New York apartment 32 years ago, we honed in on Montclair as the place to settle.
As an interracial couple with a toddler daughter, an overriding consideration was Montclair’s proven record on diversity. More or less alone among the suburbs surrounding the city, Montclair was trying to meet the challenge of our nation’s racial divisions by creating a magnet school system. Wherever you lived in a town with still largely segregated housing patterns, you likely would send your child to a good public school with a varied mix of kids. (Our daughter enrolled in Nishuane, the “gifted and talented” magnet elementary in the historically African-American neighborhood two miles away from our place.) So we arrived and Montclair became our community of interest.
Congressional redistricting — why communities matter: The immediate significance of “communities of interest” is that they are a frequently considered factor in the national once-a-decade Congressional redistricting, the electoral map redraw. In New Jersey, the new voting map is being decided in little more than a month, with the public comment period of our state redistricting commission now in full swing. What is getting most attention nationally is the intense threat of partisan gerrymandering in the map-drawing process of various states, but redistricting can also be an opportunity for communities like ours to have a say.
Our unique features: Any number of our town’s unique features are built into our geography and our history, while others are due to the number of families, like mine, “self-selecting” our town as the place to live because it speaks to our interests and values. As a community, we are highly concerned about education (Hey, Montclair State!); about access to good transportation into our neighboring metropolis; about great arts (like in our increasingly prominent jazz, film and literary festivals); about libraries and parks. They’re all resources that are available to our residents across the spread of the town.
We are also a place whose citizens are disproportionately active on a range of public issues, including gun violence, climate, healthcare and social justice. The massive peaceful outpouring of several thousands of our residents — from all areas of town — in last summer’s protests demanding equitable policing in the wake of the murder of George Floyd is just one example of times our united voice has mattered. (Chris Christie, the former Republican governor, inadvertently recognized something praiseworthy about our town’s high civic engagement when he attempted to insult us a few years ago as the “People’s Republic of Montclair.”)
Demography, election maps and Montclair: It’s inevitable that in the new voting map reflecting the 2020 census, Congressional lines will change to a greater or lesser extent. For one thing, with the rapid increases in the population of our North Jersey urban centers compared to the state’s rural areas, these urban districts’ boundaries, including the 10th Congressional District (which now includes two thirds of the geographic area of our town) will have to shift somewhat inward so that the voting power of their constituents isn’t diluted. The 8th Congressional District (including parts of Jersey City, Newark and Elizabeth) and the 9th District (Paterson, Clifton and parts of Bergen County) have similar population surpluses and will need to change for the same reason.
As it happens, Montclair is one of three towns now split between NJ-10 and an adjoining district. It’s not at all clear whether the necessary map redraw will keep us split between the 10th and the 11th Districts, unite us fully within one of them or place us within another district altogether. Best practices suggest uniting a split town like ours within a single congressional district wherever possible.
Why not a community of interest? Let’s consider what having a single Congressional representative for all of Montclair might mean. That leader, who should know our issues intimately, could be a powerful advocate for improvements in education that will strongly address our racial achievement gap, for solving the mass transit bottlenecks that bedevil the commuters from our six Montclair-Boonton line train stations and for tackling the climate-induced flooding we’ve seen in our town, among other things.
We are a diverse community, not a homogeneous one, of course. One challenge is that a large divergence exists between some of our residents who have real wealth and others who live at the margin.
My experience with Montclair suggests, however, that we have much more that unites us than divides us, and I hope that will be recognized in our representation. What do you think?
Mark Lurinsky, a long-time resident of Montclair, a board member of BlueWaveNJ and a member of its Electoral Reform Working Group. He recently testified at a hearing of the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission in favor of treating Montclair as a community of interest to be put together in a single district. Residents can find out about upcoming commission hearings and register to participate at njredistrictingcommission.org.
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