An argument for putting Montclair in a single congressional district (town square)

By MARK LURINSKY
Special at Montclair Local

When my wife and I were looking to move out of our cramped New York City apartment 32 years ago, we chose Montclair as our home base.

As an interracial couple with a toddler daughter, a primary consideration was Montclair’s proven track record for diversity. More or less alone among the suburbs surrounding the city, Montclair was trying to challenge our nation’s racial divisions by creating a magnetic school system. Wherever you live in a city where housing patterns are still largely segregated, you would likely send your child to a good public school with a diverse mix of children. (Our daughter enrolled in Nishuane, the “gifted and talented” elementary magnet in the historically African-American neighborhood two miles from our home.) So we arrived, and Montclair became our community of interest.

Congressional redistricting – why communities matter: The immediate importance of “communities of interest” is that they are a frequent factor in Congress’s once-a-decade national redistricting, electoral map reshuffling. In New Jersey, the new electoral map is decided in just over a month, with our state redistricting commission’s public comment period in full swing. What is getting the most national attention is the intense threat of partisan gerrymandering in the process of mapping various states, but redistricting can also be an opportunity for communities like ours to have their word to say.

Our unique characteristics: A number of unique characteristics of our city are embedded in our geography and history, while others are due to the number of families, like mine, who “select” our city as a place to live because it matches to our interests and our values. As a community, we are very concerned about education (Hey, Montclair State!); on access to good transport in our neighboring metropolis; on the high arts (as in our increasingly important jazz, film and literature festivals); on libraries and parks. These are all resources that are available to our residents across the city spread.

We are also a place where citizens are disproportionately active on a range of public issues, including gun violence, climate, health care and social justice. The massive peaceful outpouring of many thousands of our residents – from all parts of the city – during last summer’s protests demanding fair policing in the wake of the murder of George Floyd is just one example of times when our united voice counted. (Chris Christie, the former Republican governor, inadvertently recognized something laudable about our city’s high civic engagement when he tried to insult us a few years ago as “The People’s Republic of Montclair.”)

Imani Oakley: Representing Save Black in Montclair (Opinion)

Demography, electoral maps and Montclair: It is inevitable that in the new electoral map reflecting the 2020 census, the lines of Congress will more or less change. For one thing, with the rapid increase in population of our North Jersey urban centers relative to the rural areas of the State, the boundaries of these urban districts, including the 10and The Congressional District (which now comprises two-thirds of our city’s geographic area) will need to move inward somewhat so that its voters’ voting power is not diluted. The 8thand Congressional District (including parts of Jersey City, Newark, and Elizabeth) and the 9and The districts (Paterson, Clifton and parts of Bergen County) have similar population surpluses and will need to change for the same reason.

Montclair happens to be one of three towns now split between NJ-10 and a neighboring district. It’s not at all clear whether the necessary map redraw will keep us split between the 10and and the 11and Districts, unite us fully in one or place us in another district altogether. Best practices suggest uniting a divided city like ours within a single congressional district whenever possible.

Why not a community of interest? Consider what it might mean to have one representative in Congress for all of Montclair. This leader, who should know our issues intimately, could be a powerful advocate for education improvements that will strongly address our racial achievement gap, to address the transit bottlenecks plaguing commuters at our six train stations in the Montclair-Boonton line and to tackle the climate-induced flooding we’ve seen in our city, among other things.

We are a diverse community, not homogeneous, of course. One challenge is that there is a great discrepancy between some of our residents who have real wealth and others who live on the fringes.

My experience with Montclair suggests, however, that we have far more things that unite us than divide us, and I hope this will be recognized in our portrayal. What do you think?

Mark Lurinsky, longtime Montclair resident, BlueWaveNJ board member and member of its electoral reform task force. He recently testified at a New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission hearing in favor of treating Montclair as a community of interest to be brought together in a single district. Residents can learn about upcoming commission hearings and register to participate in njredistrictingcommission.org.


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Daniel E. Murphy