New York 9th District
Forty years ago, most of the neighborhoods in New York’s outer boroughs were almost all-white. A few were WASPy and high-income—Forest Hills in Queens, with its famous tennis stadium and large Tudor houses on winding lanes within view of massive high-rises, was a notable example. But most of them were filled by descendants of the great mass of immigrants who came over 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. The great pitched battles of city politics in the 1960s were between John Lindsay, a liberal Manhattan Republican, and his mostly outer-borough opponents. Lindsay won big margins in Manhattan from Harlem blacks, Upper East Side Republicans, and Upper West Side and Greenwich Village liberal Democrats, but he lost the other four boroughs both times he ran and was elected each time only by a plurality. Lindsay’s attitudes and policies resulted in high taxes and crime-addled neighborhoods, and fueled an exodus of middle-class New Yorkers. The city lost 1 million people in the 1970s. Some of this neighborhood change would have happened anyway. Neighborhoods settled by immigrants in the 1920s were full of old people, and increasing numbers of African-Americans were bound to move out of the old ghettoes. Unnoticed, increasing numbers of immigrants started coming to the United States after the 1965 changes in immigration law, and eventually large numbers settled in New York.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Some white upper-middle- and lower-middle-class neighborhoods remain in the outer boroughs, though they are ethnically more diverse than those of 40 years ago. Many of these neighborhoods are gathered within the convoluted boundaries of the 9th Congressional District, which includes parts of Queens and Brooklyn. The 9th begins in Queens near Fresh Meadows, just inside Nassau County. It runs west through Pomonok and the old rail suburbs of Kew Gardens and Forest Hills, with houses built to resemble English cottages. It continues west to Rego Park (“Regostan”), which has many 1950s high-rise apartments and is where Wal-Mart abandoned plans for a store because of community opposition; Middle Village; Glendale, an old German neighborhood that is now more Eastern European; and part of Maspeth. From there, the 9th heads south, taking in Woodhaven, Lindenwood and Howard Beach. It crosses over open parkland to include the shoreline areas of Bergen Beach, Mill Basin, Mill Island, Marine Park and Sheepshead Bay. It takes in Broad Channel, the only inhabited island in Jamaica Bay’s Gateway National Recreation Area, where many descendants of the original fishing families still live. In recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped revive dozens of acres of marshland and removed toxic wastes from the bay. On the Rockaway Peninsula, the district encompasses the neighborhoods of Seaside, Rockaway Park, Belle Harbor, Roxbury and the tight-knit enclave of Breezy Point, a clannish, white-ethnic, middle-class enclave where the bungalows and brick homes often change hands by word of mouth. While some of Rockaway has been largely abandoned, parts in the Arverne area have thousands of new housing units.
The population of the 9th District is only 4% black and 15% Hispanic, and some of its neighborhoods, like the Italian Howard Beach on Jamaica Bay, have remained remarkably parochial and seemingly unaffected by change. But the district’s 18% Asian population has added diversity. The district also has a large and diverse Jewish population, with both liberal voters and politically conservative Orthodox voters. This is unquestionably a Democratic district, but conservative by New York City standards: It voted 67%-30% for Democrat Al Gore for president in 2000, but in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s response to September 11, it gave Democrat John Kerry only 56%. It was the greatest swing of any congressional district in the nation that year. In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won with 55%-44% over Republican John McCain. Obama lost the Brooklyn portion of the district, 57%-42%.