Written by Karen Gellendar Friday, 13 May 2011 00:00
Calling the May 9 redistricting hearing “contentious” would be a gross understatement. While many of the residents and elected officials who took the podium criticized the plan logically and eloquently, there was a lot of screaming and yelling in the chamber. While the audience in the chamber was diverse in every respect, many members of the minority groups whose current alleged under-representation the redistricting plan is supposedly intended to correct were present to tell Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt-in no uncertain terms-that he does not speak for them.
Minority Leader Diane Yatauro also did not mince words: “This hearing is nothing but a farce...I can tell you how most of this self-serving ‘Republican Protection Plan’ will play out today, over the next week. Here’s what will happen: We know that Peter Schmitt will claim to be the great protector of the minority community…” (the rest of this sentence was inaudible due to audience laughter.) “Just as they were spending millions of dollars to defend the NIFA fight, but to no avail, as the Republicans were shot down in court, we’re expecting the same action. And that’s where this will end up again- in court,” Yatauro said.
Yatauro also noted that the hearing was held at 10 a.m. on a Monday morning, a time when most constituents could not attend; many residents also made reference to this during their time at the podium.
There was even an argument over when the public would speak. At first, Schmitt said he planned to follow “procedure” and have both Republican and Democratic legislators present their questions to county attorney John Ciampoli before members of the public would be allowed to speak. According to Schmitt, this was proper procedure- even if it had not always been followed in the past, such as during Legislator Jacobs tenure as Presiding Officer, he stated. When visibly angry Democratic legislators pointed out this would mean that the many people who had come to speak would have to wait several hours again- as they had at the May 2 Rules
Committee hearing when speakers were not heard for three hours after the meeting had started- and when the crowd threatened to erupt in anger, Schmitt changed tracks, allowing public comment after Ciampoli’s opening statement.
Ciampoli reiterated much of what he stated at the May 2 meeting, explaining the Republican position that Section 112 of the charter left the legislature with a legal imperative to redistrict immediately. Ciampoli continued to reiterate this point throughout the day, frequently after prompting by Schmitt in response to residents’ questions. Many residents responded that his statements did not answer the questions they had posed, and that some of his statements were incomprehensible.
Charles Renfroe, president of the school board for Hempstead Union Free School District, asked if the communities that this plan would effect had been contacted, to which Ciampoli repeated his explanation of the need for redistricting due to the population shift in the Second District.
Great Neck resident Valerie Feinman noted she did not think it was worth asking a question. “I refuse to ask any questions of the people sitting in front of me because all you do when we ask questions is blather, blather blather,” she said.
Many officials took to the podium as well, including Hempstead Mayor Wayne Hall and several mayors from the Great Neck peninsula. When Hall left the podium, he mirrored Yatauro’s statements, noting he would see the Republican legislators in court.