Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 22 February 2013 00:00
New map, different day; after passionate complaints from the public about the redistricting map proposed by the Republican members of the Nassau County Temporary Redistricting Commission (now dissolved as per the county charter), the Republican side of the legislature has presented a new, revised map: however, as far as most speakers at a hearing at the Feb. 11 Rules Committee hearing were concerned, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Nevertheless, the rules committee passed the map 4-3 in a party line vote; barring an eleventh-hour surprise, it is expected to pass the Republican-controlled legislature at the next meeting on Feb. 25.
The new map (now the third Republican-drafted map, if one counts the jettisoned 2011 plan widely referred to as the “Ciampoli map,”) puts all of Great Neck back into one legislative district, rectifying a major complaint about the previous iteration. Long Beach is similarly reunited. However, many if not most areas of the county (Syosset, Jericho, Woodbury, Hicksville, Roslyn, etc.) either continue to be divided between districts, or have been split anew. Roslyn, which was united under the previous two maps, will be split into four districts, as will the Five Towns; Rockville Center will be divided into five. The plan also splits 142 school districts.
Whereas the previous map would have forced competition between Legislators Delia DeRiggi-Whitton and Judy Jacobs, now DeRiggi-Whitton is slated to face off against Wayne Wink, while Dave Denenberg would be battling Joe Scannell. On the Republican side, Joe Belesi would have to run against Michael Venditto, but it’s been widely reported that Belesi is retiring, rendering the Republican face-off a non-contest. The details may have changed, but once again, more Democrats will be forced to run against each other than Republicans.
“Their plan has one goal, and one goal only: to keep themselves in power no matter what Nassau Voters may really want. That goes against everything our legislature is supposed to stand for,” said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams. Abrahams also called it unacceptable that the proposed Democratic map was not even on the meeting agenda.
During the hearing, dozens of residents asked specific questions about why their communities were divided, or why certain communities with disparate populations and interests— like Elmont and Inwood, Hempstead and Bethpage—had been lumped together in elongated, non-compact districts. Both Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves and Frank Moroney, who chaired the redistricting committee and presented the new map to the rules committee on Feb. 11, repeatedly said that such specific choices were “policy matters,” and would not answer.
“Doesn’t the public have a right to hear what your policies are?” asked Bonnie Garone, a Democratic member of the redistricting commission, who went on to say that without more information, the public would be forced to conclude that the only “policy” in effect was to establish Republican control for the next decade. “If you have policy choices other than that, then we beg you to tell us.”
Another bone of contention at the hearing was the timing; several speakers asked why the meeting could not have been held at night, when more residents would have been available to attend.
“I believe in democracy— so much that I took the day off from work because you choose to hold these kinds of meetings when people like me can’t be here,” said Jill Williams of the Village of Hempstead, clearly on the verge of tears.
Perhaps because it’s already considered a given that the full legislature will vote to adopt the map, many speakers at the hearing didn’t even address the upcoming vote, but presented arguments for the lawsuit they believe is sure to follow the map’s approval. According to multiple speakers, the map and the process by which it was derived may not only be in conflict with the county’s own charter, but with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Attorney Fred Brewington asked Gonsalves and her Republican colleagues if they were familiar with the Supreme Court case Reno vs. Shaw; according to Brewington, the proposed map is in conflict with Reno vs. Shaw due to the way it divides minority districts.
Republican committee members answered that they did not get into case law during the redistricting process, and expressed some incredulity that they, as non-lawyers, should be expected to understand such things. “You are not allowed to abdicate your legislative responsibility to someone else,” replied Brewington.
Another legal concern relates to the temporary redistricting commission, which Garone said never functioned as a proper commission in accordance with the county charter. According to Garone, commission Republicans “literally never even spoke to us about any redistricting subject whatsoever…now, that’s not a commission.” Mayor Wayne Hall of the Village of Hempstead, another commission member, backed Garone up on the point that there was no communication.
As Rockville Center resident Henry Boitel pointed out, without a functioning commission, the county charter has not been followed. “When this goes to the courts, the lack of a commission— the lack of a real commission—is going to require that the whole process be started all over again,” said Boitell.
Yet another legal problem was pointed out by Cynthia Correll of the New York Democratic Lawyer’s Council. According to the county charter, the final form of a new law has to be published seven days before the vote, and sent to newspapers four days before the vote. That doesn’t allow time for public comment, since the only public hearing of the map before the full legislature will be held at the same meeting on Feb. 25—immediately before the vote.
“If you have already put it in its final form a week before the 25, the public comment period on the 25 is meaningless and would essentially be void,” said Correll, going on to say that the vote on the map could be overturned for that reason alone, without even getting into any of the other legal considerations.
However, not everyone had given up hope on the Feb. 25 meeting: Legislator Judy Jacobs asked for the people who had actually drawn the map, Skyline Demographics, to be present at the meeting so that people could get answers to the kinds of specific, “nitty-gritty” questions the Republicans had been unable to answer that day. Gonsalves was not receptive to Jacobs’ request.
“The map speaks for itself. Whoever drew the lines is immaterial at this point…we are now owners of this map,” said Gonzales.
Whether she and her colleagues will “own” it all the way to the New York State Court of Appeals, just like the last redistricting battle in 2011, remains to be seen.