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Redistricting Commission Announces Hearings

Commissioners attempt to move forward in a bipartisan way; League of Women Voters advocates nonpartisan process

While the previous meeting of the Nassau County Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission on Thursday, June 28 was somewhat contentious, the mood at the latest meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 5 was very different, with both Democratic and Republican commissioners largely agreeing on most points raised. The commission announced the times and locations of the first round of public hearings on the 2013 redistricting, intended to solicit feedback from residents before the drawing of the new district map, then discussed the logistics of future hearings.

The four public hearings scheduled so far will take place Thursday, Sept. 20 at Long Beach City Hall at 6 p.m.; Monday, Sept. 24 at Elmont Public Library at 7 p.m.; Thursday, Sept. 27 at Glen Cove Landing School at 6 p.m.; and Wednesday, Oct. 3 at the Nassau County Legislative Chambers in Mineola at 6 p.m.

“We’re disappointed that there are a few locations left out, but we’re glad that we have four meetings as of today,” sand Lauren Corcoran-Doolin, commission co-executive director for the Democratic commissioners. However, when Corcoran-Doolin mentioned that additional meeting locations had been proposed by the Democrats but refused by the Republican “side,” Chairman Francis X. Moroney took the opportunity to appeal to the spirit of bipartisanship.

“It’s not one side, or the other side; I think we’re all in this together,” said Moroney.

It may be difficult to forge a sense of camaraderie after last year’s bitter redistricting battle, when a proposed Republican-drawn map drew public ire when many considered the plan to be a prime example of gerrymandering in favor of the party currently in power. After a legal battle that lasted several months, the redistricting plan was finally shot down by the New York State Court of Appeals on Aug. 11, 2011 due to the fact that the process the party had used to create the new map was found to be in violation of the Nassau County Charter (though the map itself was not invalidated.)

However, Moroney told Anton Newspapers that the Republican members of the commission had been advised to scrap the controversial map, and start this new process with a clean slate. Moroney further explained that the commission had abandoned the old map to “free up the debate away from a map that wasn’t implemented, and to allow the commission the opportunity to come up with their own plans and proposals.”

At the Sept. 5 meeting, Democratic commissioners urged Moroney to allow for more public involvement. “We’re talking about towns that are, population-wise, bigger than certain states, [such as] the town of Hempstead. I just think, if we’re going to err, we should err on the side of having more meetings,” said Robert McDonald, Esq. Moroney concurred, and the commissioners agreed to arrange more hearings in other areas of the county, discussing areas like Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library and Manhasset High School as possible venues. Commissioners also discussed post-map hearings to be scheduled at a later date, or hearings to take place after the new maps have been presented to the public.

The only public speaker at the meeting was Nancy Rosenthal, redistricting co-chair for the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Nassau County. Rosenthal read a statement from the league that urged transparency, adherence with the principle “one person, one vote,” and that the proposed plan for districts are “contiguous, reasonably compact and fairly representative of identifiable communities of interest.”

Earlier this year, the league went to the legislature to advocate for a nonpartisan redistricting commission, however the county charter doesn’t explicitly call for one. According to LWV redistricting co-chair Barbara Epstein, the league continues to advocate for a non-partisan solution for future redistricting cycles, although it may require a change to the county charter. Epstein pointed out that there are many successful models for non-partisan redistricting, and one has been implemented as nearby as Westchester.

“There are people and groups out there where this is what they do for a living, so this certainly could happen,” said Epstein. “None of these people on these committees or commissions have the expertise to do it themselves; they just don’t.”

Epstein is concerned with the time frame of the redistricting process; between September and December, the commission must schedule and hold all of the pre-map hearings, take public feedback into account, draw the new map, and hold post-map hearings to solicit feedback on the map itself; it’s a tall order for four months. She noted that the league also has concerns that the divisive 2011 map could be put back on the table, since there’s no reason why the Republican-dominated legislature can’t call for its return.

A revised district map must be submitted to the legislature by Jan. 5, 2013, and the legislature has until Mar. 5 to revise, adopt, or reject the map.