Ward changes could bring Montclair ‘Back to the Future: Separate and Unequal’ (Town Square)
By RENEE BASKERVILLE
Special to Montclair Local
Montclairions, were any of you shocked by the fact that the commissioners of Essex County Board of Elections are proposing three options for redistricting Montclair that will result in racial, ethnic and socioeconomic redlining in Montclair? It's “Back to the Future: Separate and Unequal."
When I read the plan and discovered the clear adverse impact of the commissioners’ proposed shifts, especially in and out of Ward Four, I could not understand how the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic gerrymandering resulting from the proposal could have escaped them.
With the heightened racial tensions in America; with front-page stories in major newspapers, and discussions in social media and on talk shows about the manner in which, across the nation, folks are demanding that discussions about race, racism and classism in America be banned from curricula (in southern and northern states, including in New Jersey); with great debates raging over voter suppression — could not they foresee the adverse impact of their proposed Montclair "salamander?" Perhaps not.
The plan removes mostly every street in the Fourth Ward of town whose residents appear, to my observation, to be predominantly of white, middle-class ancestry. It adopts circuitous redistricting patterns that go beyond gerrymandering, to create a predominantly Black race-ethnicity-and-socioeconomic underclass area in the Fourth Ward, by removing streets with 50% or more white residents from the north, southwest and the Elm Street area up to Lexington Avenue and placing them in the Second or Third Wards.
If this is permitted to stand, it will eliminate the hard-won progress Montclair has made over the decades toward fostering racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity in our pluralistic township.
For example, the proposed changes strategically carve out of the Fourth Ward Cambridge Road, Ardsley Road, Tuxedo Road, Oxford Street, Christopher Street and Montclair Avenue, to name a few streets. They carve out the streets intersecting Grove Street north of Walnut Street; those have been a part of the Fourth Ward’s beautiful mosaic of diversity, with many middle-income and upper-middle-income residents living in single-family and two-family homes.
In exchange, the election commissioners’ plan would add Frink Street, Rand Place, and Oak Place to the north side of Greenwood Avenue, and the surrounding areas, in which mostly low-moderate and lower-income residents live in multifamily residences.
Again, very deliberately, Sylvan Place was carved out of the area near Rand Place in the redistricting plan. The corner of Walnut and Grove Streets (currently in the Fourth Ward) would be in the Second Ward of the Election Commissioners’ plan. This would segregate the residents along the lines of race and class.
There is no need to remove the residents from the northern end of the Fourth Ward and put them into the Second Ward. The number of residents in the Fourth Ward is low. The current ward contour would be turned into a strategically carved hook in the middle of two wards, with an area appearing to be home to the residents of the lower socioeconomic strata removed from the Second Ward and placed in the Fourth. It would leave in the Second Ward, the surrounding areas in which the residents appear to be of more moderate and higher socioeconomic status.
The commissioners’ proposed redistricting plan for the Fourth Ward would turn back the hands of time in Montclair and solidify a permanent racial and socioeconomic underclass, gerrymandered away from persons referred to as “The New Montclairions.” It is no coincidence that the strongest pockets of commerce in our beloved Fourth Ward were also included in the gerrymandered areas.
One of the largest affordable housing residences, which is not a seniors housing residence, would be taken out of the Third Ward and added to the Fourth. This would jeopardize our well-thought-out affordable housing plan that specifically articulates a desire for affordable housing in all Wards.
By taking this very large unit from Ward Three and adding it to the disproportionately high units of affordable housing in the Fourth Ward, it would, through redlining, legalize the exclusion of the placement of a fair share of affordable housing units from select neighborhoods — contravening the township’s recent affirmation of housing policies and practices that ensure a diversity of housing options in all wards.
I urge everyone who believes in the vision of Montclair as a model of inclusiveness, diversity, and pluralism to stand together and say “no” to all three proposed Fourth Ward changes. Say “yes” to one Montclair, indivisible by race, ethnicity, culture, religion, ability, socioeconomic strata, self-definition or any other non-bona fide consideration for how our lines are drawn.
We must not support by tacit agreement with the commissioner’s plan the “salamandering” of Montclair, taking us to “Back to the Future: Separate and Unequal.”
Join the discussion with the commissioners of Essex County Board of Elections Thursday, Feb. 10 at 1 p.m..
Dr. Renée Baskerville is a Montclair resident, a physician, a political activist, a former school board member and a former Fourth Ward councilwoman of 12 years.
Editor's note: On Jan. 12, the Montclair Township Board of Ward Commissioners —a body made up of the four members of the Essex County Board of Elections as well as Montclair's municipal clerk — adopted a new ward boundary map. That process occurs every decade, in response to updated Census figures, to balance out population sizes among wards and meet other considerations prescribed by law. That map made minor changes to the outlines of wards as compared to the ones in place for the past decade. Township spokeswoman Katya Wowk has told Montclair Local the commissioners then proposed further, larger changes, with three maps up for consideration. A meeting is set for Thursday, Feb. 10. Montclair Local is seeking information on how to attend the meeting and will update this post.
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