Written by Karen Gellender Tuesday, 06 November 2012 09:32
Legislator David Denenberg was blunt in his assessment of the blatantly political nature of the Republican-drawn map. “Everyone knows that when it comes to redistricting, the map that was presented last year had one thing in mind, and that was that the Republicans could have a supermajority in the legislature,” Denenberg said. “There’s no way you can tell me that half a million people moving into new districts was about the people and not about the parties.”
Many agreed with Denenberg and demanded answers of the commission: Why did the proposed plan divide Plainview into so many pieces? Why did it divide communities along local streets? Why did it move Democratic legislators like Judy Jacobs and Denenberg himself out of their communities? However, the commissioners were clear that they were there to focus on new maps; they were not responsible for drawing the old ones, thus could not answer these questions.
“We don’t have a preconceived idea about what the new map should look like, so we want to get input from every community and see what you have to say,” said Democratic Commissioner Bonnie Garone.
However, at this time the 2011 map could still be implemented by the legislature; while the process the Republican majority used to try to institute the map in 2011 was deemed in violation of the county charter by the NYS court of appeals last year, the map itself has not been invalidated. None of the commissioners made any statements on the topic of whether or not the 2011 map would be put back on the table at some point, although many speakers alluded to that possibility.
In the interests of going forward, Legislator Jacobs stated that there was a window of opportunity present for Democrats and Republicans to work together, and that doing so would be the best way to honor the memory of friend and colleague Peter Schmitt, the former presiding officer of the legislature who died suddenly on Oct. 3. Jacobs also pointed out some interesting facts: while the lines that were drawn at the time of the legislature’s formation were said to heavily favor Republicans, a Democratic majority eventually took over in the late ’90s. Similarly, while the 2003 lines were said to favor Democrats, under those same lines the Republicans were able to win back control of the Legislature just a few years ago.
“This just goes to show, the people of Nassau County are very smart; the people of Nassau County cannot necessarily be dictated to,” said Jacobs.
In general, speakers asked the commissioners to keep communities that were united by a single school district, such as Plainview-Old Bethpage and Syosset-Woodbury, within the same district. Speakers also asked that the commissioners consider communities, rather than geographic features, when creating new districts.
“It’s the people who live and pay taxes and raise their families in the communities that ought to be your sole consideration, once we get past one person, one vote. Not separating communities of interest is extremely important,” said Barbara Sullivan-Parry of Oyster Bay.
On the subject of Plainview in particular, Larry Weiss pointed out that being politically divided already hurts Plainview: the area is separated into two congressional districts, two state senate districts, and two assembly districts. Weiss, who organized the recent Plainview Chamber of Commerce Meet the Candidates Breakfast, said that because the area made up such a small part of so many elected officials’ territories, many of those invited didn’t bother to show up. Assemblyman Charles Lavine agreed.
“Any plan that is going to bisect, trisect or eviscerate Plainview is going to simply serve to lessen whatever political clout, whatever social clout this community has,” Lavine stated.
The most outspoken in his skepticism was Henry Boitel of Rockville Centre, who said he started out optimistic that the commission would bring a citizen’s perspective to redistricting, but no longer believes that to be the case. Boitel stated that while the commission keeps holding hearings asking for feedback, the only meeting of substance where the commissioners tried to determine the ground rules for their procedure ended with the parties being unable to agree.
“You’ve got five Democrats and five Republicans who will probably be acting as though they are Democrats and Republicans and as an extension of the legislators that appointed them, rather than an independent, citizen’s commission looking out for the welfare of the county,” said Boitel.
Boitel went on to state that the commission’s website lacks information about the population imbalance that the redistricting is ostensibly being done to correct. Francesca Carlow also mentioned the website, asking for greater legibility for the new map or maps when they are uploaded; the commissioners seemed to agree with Carlow’s assessment that the 2011 map was not easily readable.
Still, whether they expressed skepticism about the process or were coming from a more positive angle, just about everyone who spoke urged the commissioners to do their very best to be fair and serve the people of Nassau County, not the parties. “Use your very best efforts to make sure that whatever product is the end result is not going to be viewed as a product of partisan cynicism,” said Lavine.
Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton also crystallized the concerns of many when she spoke about the possibilities of a Republican supermajority in the legislature, which would allow the County Executive to move forward with his bonding plans.
“Don’t trust government; it’s always good to have two sides looking at whatever it is, especially when it comes to borrowing our children’s money,” said the legislator.
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.