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Almanac of American Politics Excerpt: The House Districts of Brooklyn and Queens

Dear Readers: For more than five decades, the Almanac of American Politics has set the standard for political reference books. This month, the Almanac is publishing its 2024 edition, with some 2,200 pages offering fully updated chapters on all 435 House members and their districts, all 100 senators, all 50 states and governors, and much more.

One of the Crystal Ball’s senior columnists, Louis Jacobson, is also a senior author of the Almanac. Jacobson has written for seven editions of the Almanac, going back to the 2000 volume. Currently, he writes the 100 state and gubernatorial chapters. For the 2024 edition — the first volume to be published after the post-2020 Census redistricting — Jacobson also worked with chief author Rich Cohen to revise every congressional district description to reflect their new lines.

Below are excerpts from the chapters in the 2024 Almanac that cover seven House districts located either fully or partly in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Jacobson revised these chapters, aided by a day-long visit to these boroughs in December 2022 in which he was accompanied by a tour guide well-versed in the local demographics. The visit — by foot, subway, bus, boat, and car — included such neighborhoods as Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Corona, Flushing, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, Flatbush, Midwood, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, and Borough Park. The visit came almost exactly 20 years after Jacobson’s first extended tour of New York’s five boroughs for the Almanac, which was adapted into a Washington Post article. To keep the length manageable for the Crystal Ball, the chapters below include reduced discussions of the portions of these districts that stretch beyond Brooklyn and Queens.

It also may be that these descriptions will have to change at least slightly for the 2026 edition of the Almanac; last week, a lower court ruled that the state’s congressional map needs to be redrawn, a position pushed by Democrats who saw the state’s highest court foil their gerrymander last cycle. That court appears likely to weigh in again – what it decides could have important ripple effects across New York state, and on the battle for the U.S. House overall.

Readers of the Crystal Ball can receive a 15% discount if they purchase the 2024 edition through the Almanac’s website and apply the code TAAP15CB at checkout through August. Also posted free on the website is a new essay by the Almanac’s founding author, Michael Barone, that is included in the 2024 volume: “Revisiting the 49 Percent Nation.”

The Editors

NY-6: Flushing, Jackson Heights, Forest Hills (represented by Democratic Rep. Grace Meng)

More than a half-century ago, most of the neighborhoods in New York City’s outer boroughs were overwhelmingly white. Most of these areas were filled with descendants of the great mass of immigrants who came from eastern and southern Europe between 1890 and 1924, and from northern Europe earlier — Irish and Italians, Jews and Hungarians, Poles and Czechs and Greeks. A few parts of Queens were WASPy and high-income. Forest Hills in Queens, with its famous tennis stadium and large Tudor houses, was a notable example. But the only thing permanent in New York is change. When liberal Manhattan Republican John Lindsay was mayor in the 1960s, middle-class New Yorkers fled the city’s high taxes and crime-riddled neighborhoods. Forest Hills was the site of sometimes violent protests when Lindsay attempted to place low-income housing projects there.

In recent years, the overall picture in Queens has brightened. It has become the borough with the most residential growth in New York City. Much of this growth has been in areas with large numbers of recent immigrants, though some of it has been from the more economically established children and grandchildren of immigrants. Queens is more than one-third larger than Brooklyn in area, but its civic nodes are more highly dispersed. The Economist wrote in 2018 that “it has the vibrancy of a whole world. Around 160 languages are spoken across the borough; residents hail from almost 200 countries.” The 2020 Census reported that 55 percent of the residents in Queens spoke a language other than English at home, and 47 percent were foreign-born.

The 6th District of New York, which is located entirely in Queens, begins near the border of Nassau County, at Fresh Meadows, and runs west through Pomonok and the old rail suburbs of Kew Gardens and Forest Hills. It continues west to Rego Park, Middle Village and part of Maspeth. Across Flushing Bay from LaGuardia Airport (which is in the 14th District), the 6th takes in Flushing, once a middle-income white neighborhood, now overwhelmingly Asian, mainly Chinese, including Taiwanese as well as ethnic Chinese from Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. Central Flushing is highly urbanized; near the end of the 7 train, it includes the city’s busiest public library and a bustling underground food court that features what Gothamist called “the boldest collection of Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean cuisine” in the city. (New York City has three major Chinatowns — one in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, and the largest, in Flushing — in addition to many smaller Chinese neighborhoods.) The area east of 138th Street includes rapidly-growing Korean neighborhoods, including Murray Hill and Koreatown. The district is 47 percent Asian, the largest share for any district not in a Pacific Coast state; it is 23 percent Latino and 5 percent Black, a notable contrast to the Black plurality in the neighboring 5th District, which also is entirely in Queens.

The 2022 redistricting retained the basic design of the 6th. From the 14th District, it gained Woodside and much of Jackson Heights, a pair of adjoining neighborhoods that hug the elevated tracks of the 7 train. Woodside was historically Irish and is now Hispanic and Filipino (former Rep. Joe Crowley, who rose to power in Woodside, lost the 14th District to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a 2018 primary). Jackson Heights is one of the city’s most ethnically diverse neighborhoods, with middle- and upper-middle class families residing in the 1930s planned low-rise co-ops and commercial corridors that are filled with Colombian, Uruguayan, Tibetan, Nepali, and Indian businesses (even though most Indians have since moved further out on Long Island). The 6th also includes Elmhurst, a lower-income, ethnically mixed neighborhood with many Hispanics, located south of the 7 train; its hospital was one of the hardest hit during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

NY-7: Williamsburg, Bushwick, Long Island City (represented by Democratic Rep. Nydia Velázquez)

The story of the 7th Congressional District is the story of New York City: a rich history of immigrants, slums, and economic revival. The old Brooklyn Navy Yard, which began building ships more than two centuries ago and employed 70,000 during World War II, shut down in 1966; it now houses a vibrant and rapidly growing industrial park, including new centers for tech companies and the largest movie and television production complex outside Hollywood. Fort Greene has become Brooklyn’s fine arts center. South of the Williamsburg Bridge is a significant population of Hasidic Jews from the Satmar sect; while some have moved to the exurbs of New York and New Jersey, many have remained in order to be within walking distance of their synagogues. North of the bridge, an area that was once home to Puerto Ricans and Dominicans has sprouted high-rises and pricey shopping; over time, its leading-edge hipster culture has migrated out from the L train line to the less expensive environs of Bushwick, where street painting covers the facades of nightclubs, music venues and cafes. Nearby East Williamsburg includes an industrial zone where Netflix has set up a studio.

The 7th traverses Newtown Creek, the border between Brooklyn and Queens, including the recently rebuilt Kosciuszko Bridge that carries the Brooklyn Queens Expressway between the two boroughs. In Queens, Long Island City has exploded in population, thanks to its easy access to Manhattan on any one of five subway lines. The Asian American population in Long Island City grew fivefold in the decade preceding the 2020 Census, a faster rate than any New York City neighborhood. Areas such as Court Square have attracted second-generation Asian Americans and others to high rises with impressive views of Manhattan, in some cases enabled by rezoning from industrial to residential; the transformation is symbolized by the conversion of 5Pointz, once a storied center for graffiti art and now an expensive high rise. Long Island City has also been a magnet for office space; Jet Blue’s headquarters are in Queensboro Plaza. In 2018, Amazon announced it would put one of its two new headquarters, with 25,000 jobs, in Hunter’s Point in Long Island City; it would have been the capstone of an existing office development boom along the East River. But politicians and neighbors objected to the scale of the government’s incentives, and Amazon reversed its decision. Just south of Long Island City is the 180-acre Sunnyside Yard — a huge expanse where rail trains are serviced and stored, and which remains one of the city’s great undeveloped spaces. In 2020, the city unveiled a master plan that would cover the yard’s operations and build 12,000 units of affordable housing and an office complex on top. But covering that big an area would be expensive, and under Mayor Eric Adams, interest in the proposal seemed to wane.

The 2022 redistricting stripped Manhattan and Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood from the 7th and increased its portion of Queens along the East River.

NY-8: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Canarsie (represented by Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries)

African Americans, facing limited options for homebuying, began settling in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in large numbers in the 1930s, after the opening of the subway line that was celebrated in the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn song, “Take the ‘A’ Train.” After World War II, the pace accelerated, as crime and crowding in Harlem — as well as a large influx of African Americans from the South — drove Black New Yorkers to the aging but solid brownstones of “Bed-Stuy.” When job growth slowed, Bed-Stuy was plagued by disinvestment, discrimination, poverty and crime. In the 1960s, New York’s two senators, Democrat Robert F. Kennedy and Republican Jacob Javits, helped Bed-Stuy secure a Model Cities designation. That led to the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, the first such community development organization in the United States.

Bed-Stuy became almost as powerful a symbol of Black New York as was Harlem, thanks in part to the films of Spike Lee, a Brooklyn native. His “Do the Right Thing,” shot on Stuyvesant Avenue between Lexington Avenue and Quincy Street, succinctly captured the racial tensions then brewing in the old neighborhood. Jay-Z grew up in the Marcy Houses project, while Notorious B.I.G. grew up in neighboring Clinton Hill. Bed-Stuy has become a political powerhouse: Once so heavily gerrymandered that it took a Voting Rights Act lawsuit to compel a district that Shirley Chisholm could win, Bed-Stuy and adjoining neighborhoods are now the home base of Mayor Eric Adams, Attorney General Letitia James, and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Thanks to organizing that secured a historic district designation, the Bed-Stuy neighborhood’s stately architecture largely avoided the wrecking ball; the brownstones are now in high demand, including from white buyers. In the last decade, Bed-Stuy lost over 22,000 non-Hispanic Black residents, the most of any neighborhood citywide, Gothamist reported, and over the past 20 years, the neighborhood declined from 75% Black to less than half, while the median household income nearly doubled and the poverty rate declined. The commercial strips on Fulton Street and on Lewis and Tompkins avenues are home to many Black-owned businesses.

The 8th District of New York forms a crescent that surrounds the 9th District. It begins in Bedford-Stuyvesant and continues to Ocean Hill and Brownsville. The latter communities were at the center of conflict — including a months-long teachers strike in 1968 — that continued into the 1970s over racial discrimination and the quality of local education. The district runs along the Belt Parkway and the edge of Jamaica Bay through Spring Creek, Canarsie, and Starrett City, home of Christian Cultural Center, an evangelical megachurch that is proposing to build a $1.2 billion “urban village.” These neighborhoods are substantially Black and include some Caribbean immigrants. The bay is causing increased neighborhood flooding, even on otherwise dry days, due to increased sea levels from climate change.

The district continues through parts of heavily African-American Flatlands and the heavily white neighborhoods of Bergen Beach, Marine Park and Mill Basin. It includes the Coney Island peninsula, which was an island before the city filled in Coney Island Creek. Home to the famous amusement district with the Cyclone roller coaster, the Wonder Wheel, and the annual hot-dog eating contest, Coney Island has both public housing and luxury construction. Brighton Beach, which is part of the peninsula, has more immigrants from the former Soviet Union than any other district in the nation. Sheepshead Bay, with many piers and marinas, has been a destination for the middle-class children of former Soviet immigrants who grew up in Brighton Beach. Overall, the 8th is 48 percent Black and 16 percent Hispanic.

NY-9: Flatbush, Crown Heights (represented by Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke)

“Brooklyn.” Just saying the word in a comedian’s monologue used to elicit laughter. It evoked an accent of twisted English, a raucous, in-your-face style, a sense of humor with an edge, and the chip-on-the-shoulder assertiveness of those sure they will always be in second place. Brooklyn was a separate community from the 17th century on, and in the 19th century, it was one of the largest cities in the country, with its own newspapers, baseball teams, and celebrities, including Henry Ward Beecher and Walt Whitman. By 1898, when the five boroughs were welded into Greater New York, 1 million people lived in Brooklyn. In 1913, a transit agreement was struck to link the city’s then-independent lines and triple the track to 619 miles. The agreement helped Brooklyn expand well beyond its original neighborhoods near the Brooklyn Bridge.

Manhattan factory workers no longer had to live in the crowded Lower East Side tenements that social reformer Jacob Riis had exposed in the 1890s, particularly after the Williamsburg Bridge was built in 1903. They moved in droves into neighborhoods of three- to five-story apartments and four-family houses. Brooklyn grew from 1.1 million in 1900 to 2.6 million in 1930. The old Brooklynites were mostly Protestant — Dutch, Yankee and German, plus some Catholic Irish. The new Brooklynites were heavily Italian and Jewish. Around the time Jackie Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as the first Black player in Major League Baseball, Brooklyn was experiencing an influx of African Americans into Brownsville and Crown Heights near Ebbets Field. Ethnic whites left the borough, driven away by fear of crime and fed by “blockbusting” — in which unscrupulous real estate brokers stoked white fears, then bought homes cheaply and resold them for higher prices—and the promise of low-cost mortgages in the suburbs. Even “Dem Bums” left Flatbush for Los Angeles in 1958; Ebbets Field was knocked down and replaced by an apartment complex.

Kings County, which is coterminous with Brooklyn, is New York’s most populous county and, as of 2022, the nation’s tenth largest. With a population that has grown back to 2.6 million, Brooklyn has witnessed great vitality among upwardly mobile Hispanic, Asian and Caribbean immigrants. Vacant land is scarce—Brooklyn has less than one-tenth as many square miles as Orange County, California, which has a slightly larger population—but the borough has been seeing more vertical development where zoning allows it.

The 9th District of New York is one of two districts located entirely in Kings County. On the east side of Prospect Park is Flatbush, home of the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College; Crown Heights, which is the base of the city’s Lubavitcher Hasidic Community as well as the Little Caribbean and Little Haiti neighborhoods; most of Kensington, which includes Little Bangladesh and a Pakistani population; and Midwood, a neighborhood with wide, suburban-style streets populated by modern Orthodox Jews, where you can find kosher sushi restaurants and boutiques with modest “tznius” clothing for women. The district’s population is 49 percent Black (barely beating out the 8th to become the largest of any district in New York), 11 percent Hispanic and 11 percent Asian.

NY-10: Financial District, Downtown Brooklyn, Park Slope (represented by Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman)

Starting at the Battery, at the southern tip of Manhattan, the 10th District of New York covers the Financial District and many commercial and residential neighborhoods. Battery Park City has attractive, and expensive, modern apartments and parks. Sophisticated TriBeCa began with artists’ lofts and an annual film festival and has since developed a shopping and restaurant area, as has neighboring SoHo. Chelsea is home to art galleries and is a mecca for gay men. Greenwich Village has a radical past; it is now anchored by New York University. The 10th includes parts of the Lower East Side, the East Village and Chinatown. The expansion of Chinatown and SoHo have shrunk Little Italy into a few touristy blocks.

The 10th crosses the East River to Brooklyn, which now accounts for 56 percent of the district’s population. The swath of Brooklyn in the 10th offers easy access to Manhattan. In DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), artists moved into old industrial lofts starting in the 1990s, but those have given way to high-priced apartments and a notable tech-sector presence. Affluent Brooklyn Heights is the city’s oldest historic district, home to stunning views of the Lower Manhattan skyline and a popular East River promenade cantilevered over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Downtown Brooklyn, located partially in the 7th, is the borough’s governmental center and home to a rapidly expanding educational complex run by New York University. Park Slope, on Prospect Park’s west side, is the prosperous, hyper-liberal home of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, former Mayor Bill de Blasio, and city Comptroller Brad Lander, a potential future mayoral candidate. The 10th includes the Barclays Center, home to basketball’s Brooklyn Nets; the Grand Army Plaza; the Parisian-style Eastern Parkway; the Brooklyn Public Library; the Brooklyn Museum; the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, with its Japanese landscaping and placid duck ponds; and industrial areas such as Gowanus and Red Hook. In the southern part of the district is sprawling Sunset Park, which has Mexican and Central American residents anchored around 5th Avenue and New York City’s second-largest Chinatown clustered around 8th Avenue. Neighboring Borough Park is home to Hasidic Jews, mostly from the Bobover sect.

NY-11: Staten Island, Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst (represented by Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis)

Staten Island is part of New York City, yet is a land apart, closer geographically and culturally to New Jersey than to the city’s other boroughs. Ethnically, Staten Island has the highest percentage of residents of Italian ancestry in the nation. The Staten Island Ferry — an 18-minute trip from Manhattan — docks at St. George, where Empire Outlets in 2019 became the first outlet mall in New York City. The island’s west shore is industrial marshland, where the 2,200-acre Freshkills Park — nearly three times as large as Central Park and spread on top of the former landfill that collected more than 50 years and 150 million tons of the city’s trash until 2001 — has taken shape, hosting a variety of plant and animal life. Staten Island’s scrubland interior has been transformed into middle-income suburbia.

Culturally, Staten Islanders are more conservative than residents of the other boroughs. In 1993, they provided the margin of victory for Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Perhaps looking ahead to election time, Giuliani shepherded a new ferry terminal to completion and reduced the fare to zero. Demographic shifts have been evident in recent years. The northern shore of Staten Island has gained Blacks and Asians, including Sri Lankans, while a large Hispanic community, predominantly Mexican, is situated among well-established Italian neighborhoods on the southern side. The Black and Asian shares of Staten Island are 12 percent each, while the Hispanic percentage is 19 percent.

The 11th District of New York extends beyond Staten Island to take in the southwestern end of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn portions account for a bit more than 35 percent of the district. The initial Democratic-drawn maps, eventually rejected by the courts, would have connected Staten Island to liberal Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Park Slope, providing an opening for a Democrat like Max Rose, who represented the district for one term, to win the seat. Instead, the court-approved map linked Staten Island to parts of Bensonhurst (from the 10th) in exchange for Gravesend, home to a Sephardic and Syrian Jewish neighborhood, and other areas near Ocean Parkway (which were given to the 8th and 9th). In addition to Bensonhurst, the Brooklyn portion of the 11th now includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Bath Beach. All are historically Italian (and in some cases, Jewish) middle-class enclaves consisting heavily of large single-family homes. More recently, these neighborhoods have attracted Mexican, Central American, Arab and Chinese residents. Under the new lines, the Asian population increased from 15 percent to 22 percent.

NY-14: Eastern Bronx, Northern Queens (represented by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)

Along the East River, LaGuardia Airport has struggled with short runways and poor commuter access. As one of his legacies, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo began to deliver on his promise to upgrade it into a “21st century airport” — an $8 billion project, with 37 gates in one large new terminal that replaced two smaller ones. When the final section of the concourse opened in June 2022, airport officials hailed it as “the first new major airport” built in the United States in 25 years. But Cuomo’s resignation resulted in the demise of the planned AirTrain from the city subway to the airport; continuing reliance on ground transportation leaves LaGuardia as the only major East Coast airport without a rail connection.

Nearby in Queens is Corona, a neighborhood along the 7 line that was once Italian and African American (Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Malcolm X lived there) but is now lower-income Mexican, Dominican and Ecuadorian. Astoria has received successive waves of Greek, Latin American and Arab immigrants and is now home to outposts of hipster boutiques that started in Brooklyn. Close to LaGuardia is Rikers Island, since 1932 the city’s jail, now severely out-moded. Upon taking office in January 2022, Mayor Eric Adams offered an “action plan” to improve security at the facility; he pushed off a plan considered by his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, to close the facility by 2026 and shift to smaller detention centers in each of the boroughs except Staten Island. The Mets’ Citi Field is in the 14th, though it’s within a baseball’s toss from the 6th on two sides. The remainder of the district — 54 percent by population — is in the Bronx.

Louis Jacobson is a Senior Columnist for Sabato’s Crystal Ball. He is also the senior correspondent at the fact-checking website PolitiFact and is senior author of the forthcoming Almanac of American Politics 2024. He was senior author of the Almanac’s 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022 editions and a contributing writer for the 2000 and 2004 editions.