A revised Republican proposal for redistricting Nassau County legislative districts was approved by the Legislature’s Rules Committee after being met with near-universal criticism at a public hearing Monday morning.
The plan, introduced by the Legislature’s Republican majority after the county’s bipartisan Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission failed to recommend a map in January, is the result of required redistricting following demographic changes recorded in the 2010 census.
While the GOP plan introduced in the bipartisan commission sought to divide Great Neck into two districts, the new proposal keeps the peninsula unified.
But the new proposal, which is still subject to a vote before the full Legislature, contains major changes to other communities in Nassau County.
Nassau County Legislator Wayne Wink’s (D-Roslyn) 11th district would be dramatically altered, leaving him in the same district as Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove). The 11th District would gain Glen Cove, and lose parts of Herricks, Albertson, East Hills and parts of Roslyn Heights.
“This map literally draws and quarters Roslyn. Clearly this is a map designed to minimize the voting power of areas like Roslyn,” said Wink, who called the Republican plan “gerrymandering at its worst.”
Wink said sharing a district with another Democratic incumbent might also influence the decision he’s making about whether to run for county comptroller.
Under the GOP plan, Nassau County Legislator Richard Nicolello’s (R-New Hyde Park) 9th district would extend north through Roslyn Estates, Manhasset, Plandome Manor and parts of Herricks, and he would lose Carle Place and parts of Westbury.
A redrawn 16th district, currently represented by Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury) would also stretch east from Plainview to parts of Roslyn Heights now represented by Wink.
“Obviously when you represent a community of individuals for years, you build up relationships. It’s kind of difficult to lose those,” Nicolello said.
Several previously unified communities – including the Five Towns, the village of Hempstead and Hicksville – would be divided into multiple districts.
In addition to Wink and De-Riggi Whitton, the map would place incumbent Democrats Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) and Joseph Scannell (D-Baldwin) in the same district. It would also merge the districts of Republicans Joseph Belisi (R-Farmingdale) and Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa).
“This map meets the requirements of the constitution of the United States,” said Frank Moroney, the Republican chair of the redistricting commission. “It creates competitive districts that do not abridge or deny voting rights based on race or language.”
Moroney cited figures suggesting that the GOP plan left more census-designated places intact than an alternative Democratic proposal which was not up for discussion at the hearing.
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) accused county Republicans of gerrymandering the county to dilute minority votes, split communities and solidify their legislative majority.
“The Republicans have made clear to the people of Nassau County that they are not interested in what you have to say,” Abrahams said. “The Republicans are afraid to leave the real choice in the people’s hands. Instead, they are trying to rig the system.
Abrahams said the Democrats had sought to introduce their map for discussion but were denied by Republican leadership.
“The Republicans are trying to hide our map from you because it lets the people’s voices be heard,” Abrahams said.
Bonnie Garone, a Democratic member of the redistricting commission, said the redistricting process – which failed to produce a recommendation, with Democratic commissioners refusing to participate in a vote on the GOP map at the commission’s final session – never moved forward in good faith.
“I think the commission operated basically as a charade,” Garone said. “[The Republicans] literally never even spoke to us about any redistricting subject whatsoever.”
The committee voted to suspend the rules limiting public comment in order to allow all those wishing to speak to address the legislators. Dozens of residents of affected communities, including the village of Hempstead, Elmont and the Five Towns, spoke against the map, accusing the Republican majority of gerrymandering and directing accusatory questions to committee chair Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) which largely went unanswered.
The Legislature has until March 5 to approve a new district map.
Jane Thomas, co-president of the Nassau chapter of the League of Women Voters, criticized the redistricting process and advocated for the map designed by the Nassau United Redistricting Coalition – a group consisting of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause New York, La Fuente, Long Island Civic Engagement Table and other civic activism groups such us Make the Road NY.
“It is disturbing that the posting of the hearing was done at the last minute,” Thomas said.
Thomas also addressed Nassau County Legislator Howard Kopel (R-Valley Stream), who was absent from the hearing but whose 7th District would be split up under the Republican plan.
“You represent the Five Towns area. How can you in good conscience support a plan that divides the Five Towns into four legislative districts?” Thomas said.
Elmont resident Joyce Stow criticized the proposed joining of Elmont and Inwood within a new 3rd District, saying the new map artificially forces together two communities which do not share political interests.
“It makes no sense to create a district to elect a minority candidate that stretches from Elmont to Inwood,” Stow said.
Jill Williams of Hempstead accused the majority of trying to dilute the power of minority voters, her voice breaking at times in an emotional address.
“This act of redistricting is an act that is chipping away at democracy,” Williams said. “It is embarrassing, it’s disgusting and it is, I dare say, an act of institutionalized racism.”
Throughout the verbal bludgeoning by angry residents, Gonsalves did not respond to several questions on the substance of the map.
Daniel Altschuler of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table asked Gonsalves to categorically state that the map was not driven by political gerrymandering, and called the majority’s actions “ a rigging of the electoral process.”
“The Supreme Court is yet to define what gerrymandering is,” said Gonsalves.
Great Neck residents were not well represented among the attendees at the County legislative chamber. The new map, while affecting other communities, leaves Great Neck intact – a reversal questioned by Merrick resident Helene Manas.
“Great Neck has money, and money means power,” Manas said. “I find it a little funny that that’s the one district you put back together.”