GOP legislators approve redistricting plan

Jessica Ablamksy

The Nassau County legislature approved on May 24 a controversial GOP redistricting plan that would split Great Neck and reduce the number of incumbent Democratic districts by two in time for the November election.

The 10-8 vote split largely along party lines, with Legislator Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) joining Democrats in opposition. Legislator Robert Troiano (D-Westbury) was absent.

This comes after an appellate division judge removed enforcement of a temporary restraining order that prevented legislators from implementing new electoral lines. Both sides were due back in court on May 26.

Democratic county legislators had filed suit, calling the redistricting plan arbitrary, capricious, and unconstitutional.

“Shouldn’t we wait? There’s a hearing on May 26,” said Legislator Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick), whose district would be merged with that of Legislator Joseph Scannell (D-Baldwin).

The GOP plan would also merge districts represented by Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove), who has said she is not seeking reelection, and Legislator Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury).

“I’m rarely speechless,” Jacobs said. “I’ve been here for 16 years. I was presiding officer for eight of them. I have never seen anything like this.”

The original redistricting proposal was presented to the public on April 26, after Majority Leader Peter Schmitt asked County Attorney John Ciampoli in mid-April to render an opinion on redistricting requirements. He received it the same day.

At a public hearing on May 9, hundreds of people spoke out against the redistricting map, some of them self-professed Republicans.

It was vigorously opposed by a majority of Great Neck village mayors and has already cost the cash strapped county $650,000, according to Denenberg, who cited a number from the office of legislative budget review.

Great Neck is currently represented by Democrat Judi Bosworth in District 10. The original GOP proposal split the nine villages of Great Neck, and three villages within Great Neck, between Districts 10 and 11. It would move about 570,000 residents, as opposed to approximately 50,000 in the last redistricting.

The amended redistricting plan would return the Great Neck villages of Great Neck Estates, Russell Gardens and Thomaston to District 10, split the hamlet of University Gardens and the Village of Lake Success in District 11, along with North New Hyde Park, Manhasset Hills, North Hills and most of Roslyn. It is unclear how many people would be moved.

“I want to tell everybody that I am very disappointed that the vote passed,” Bosworth said. “The amendments were not given the appropriate amount of time for us to digest, just as the entire redistricting plan wasn’t.”

With the county attorney absent, she said many questions were left unanswered.

“I would have hoped that more legislators would have voted against it,” she said

In an hours long discussion that repeatedly devolved into a shouting match, Democratic legislators questioned Deputy County Attorney John Nocella. Ciampoli was in the hospital.

Schmitt and Nocella frequently told Democrats their questions were irrelevant, provoking shouts and boos from an audience who had come out to testify in support of the Nassau Coliseum project.

Nocella was unable to supply the names of those who drew electoral lines, except to say it was a group of people from the county attorney’s office with assistance from another group of people who were also in the room.

“Well how about somebody coming down who has the friggin’ answers,” Yatauro said.

Despite repeated requests by Democrats in writing and at meetings, Nocella was unable to supply the contract of an outside consultant who helped draw electoral lines, and an invoice for software related to electoral districts.

Democrats accused Republicans of drawing electoral lines before the county attorney rendered his opinion, which they said the contract and invoice would prove.

They also asked why the county attorney’s office, whose staff represents the entire legislature, would embroil itself in a partisan issue without telling Democratic legislators.

Democrats suggested new lines are an attempt by Republicans to obtain a supermajority, which they agreed would reduce checks and balances.

The Nassau County legislature is currently split 11-eight in favor of Republicans. Bills need 13 votes to pass. With a redistricting that reduces the number of incumbent Democratic districts from eight to six,

The redistricting map has been criticized by black residents, despite Schmitt’s insistence that the proposal would protect their voting rights.

Republican leaders have maintained 2010 census data requires an immediate response due to population growth that left minority voters underrepresented, and doing nothing would leave the county to voting rights lawsuits.

To create a new minority district, the original proposal would split minority communities such as Five Towns in two and further divide the Village of Hempstead from two to three. The amended proposal would largely maintain those changes.

According to Republicans, the county charter sets up a three-step redistricting process, with immediate redistricting after each census in time for the next election. A bipartisan commission would then amend district boundaries after the election in March 2012, as mandated by the county charter.

Democrats have said the county charter necessitates boundaries merely be described based on census data and later drawn by a bipartisan commission, after extensive public input.

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Jessica Ablamksy

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