Nassau County Democrats are requesting a probe into Republican restricting efforts that would result in changes for 44 percent of the county’s population and split Great Neck in two.
“We are deeply troubled that illegal steps may have been taken to produce the rushed and illegitimate map,” said Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D- Glen Cove). “Today we call upon County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to take a close look at which individuals actually prepared the map, who authorized the participants’ work and who is paying for it.”
The proposed map was presented to the public on April 26, after Majority Leader Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) asked County Attorney John Ciampoli in mid-April what response to census data does the county charter require.
“It was very rapid, because as it turned out the county attorney was researching it on his own anyway,” Schmitt said. “He was doing his job.”
At a public hearing on May 9 regarding the proposed map, Ciampoli said his office spent $18,000 on redistricting software.
Democrats said the day after the map was revealed to the public, a charge for $5,000 for software related to redistricting appeared at the Board of Elections that BOE staff did not order.
“Mr. Schmitt admitted he had ordered the software and said the Legislature’s Majority would pay for it,” said Nassau County Legislator Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick). “Mr. Schmitt can not order for the Board of Elections. I contend there is a real possibility of misrepresentation as well as misappropriation of funds that violate the process which governs redistricting.”
The GOP plan calls for District 10, which is represented by Democratic Legislator Judi Bosworth and now covers all of Great Neck, to combine much the peninsula with Manhasset and Port Washington.
Several villages in Great Neck would be split in two, including the Village of Great Neck Estates at Cedar Drive, the Village of Great Neck Plaza at Middle Neck Road and a smaller part of the Village of Thomaston.
Schmitt said although the proposed map respects town boundaries better than the current map, the voting rights act does not require consideration for village lines.
“Nine villages in great neck,” he said. “If they were really together so much, they would have long ago merged into one district. But I don’t live there so it is not for me to say.”
In defense of the proposed map, at the hearing Legislator Francis Becker (R-Lynbrook) said the Democrat controlled effort split multiple villages.
“It just depends sometimes on who is doing the gerrymandering,” he said.
A new District 11 to the south would include the villages of Lake Success and Russell Gardens, the hamlets of University Gardens and North New Hyde Park, part of which is currently in District 9, along with North Hills, Manhasset Hills and most of Roslyn.
New Hyde Park would remain among the towns in District 9, along with Williston Park and East Williston.
District 9 Legislator Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn) said the map would shift 57 percent of his residents and 46 percent of Bosworth’s in an attempt to leave them both vulnerable to a Republican challenger.
“It’s the only thing that makes sense to me is they think then that one or both of us become vulnerable, simply due to the fact that we are running in new areas,” he said. “That is the only reason I can see that they are doing this. Otherwise, it really makes no sense.”
Schmitt said the change was on behalf of Oyster Bay, whose town was split into different districts by the current map.
“There are no districts that are Republican majority districts,” he said, referring to the proposed map. “The best district is mine. That’s 48 percent republican.”
The hearing saw a solid nine hours of comments from the public, with opinions resting firmly against the plan.
The tone was perhaps set by Schmitt, who wanted save public comment for the latter portion of the meeting, and referred to unidentified parties as “you people.” The comment prompted accusations of racism from the diverse crowd, many of whom said they came to defend their rights as minority voters.
The GOP map would create a new minority district but split minority communities such as Five Towns, and further divide the Village of Hempstead from two districts to three.
Schmitt said repeatedly that Republican efforts were aimed at protecting the rights of minority voters, as census data showed population growth that demanded an immediate response. He said redrawing boundaries after the election would expose the county to voting rights lawsuits.
“The population of Hempstead only grew by 100 people in 10 years,” said Village of Hempstead Mayor Wayane Hall. “We will see you in court.”
Hall was nearly denied the opportunity to speak by Schmitt, after a speaker ceded his spot to Hall. Audience chants of “let him speak” prompted a turnaround, an event that repeated itself with other members of the public.
“You have diluted black voters simply for your own gain,” said Village of Hempstead Town Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby. “You should be ashamed.”
Many questions from the public were answered by Ciampoli, with legislators and speakers expressing frustration over replies that did not answer questions.
“How the plan was drawn matters not,” Ciampoli said.
Also speaking were the mayors of five villages in Great Neck, including the mayors Great Neck, Great Neck Plaza, Kensington, Lake Success and Russell Gardens.
“I implore you to turn your attention to the real needs of Nassau County and withdraw this plan,” said Village of Lake Success Mayor Ron Cooper.
Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender asked several questions that remain unanswered, including how many villages are split by the map and why her tiny, third of a square mile large village was divided.
“I haven’t analyzed the current map because the one you have online is unclear,” she said. “Splitting villages is not empowerment. It dilutes representation.”
Schmitt informed Great Neck resident and PTA President Judy Liman that the plan will be presented to the public after a vote by the Legislature.
“I want to look at the Republican side of the aisle and ask, ‘What are you afraid of? Why can’t you have more hearings?'” she said. “Unfortunately this is a fate accompli. The many parents who have talked to me don’t approve of what you are doing.”
Referencing privatizations such as Long Island Bus and medical services at the Nassau County Jail, President of the Long Island Federation of Labor John Durso said, “You are more and more beginning to resemble the national Republican party. That is not who you have been.”
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.
Schmitt said a bipartisan commission will amend district boundaries after it is established in March 2012, as mandated by the county charter.
Democrats have said the county charter necessitates boundaries be described based on census data and drawn by a bipartisan commission.
“If you know it’s going to be litigated, why not design it so it’s not?” Bosworth asked. “It would be irresponsible on our part not to challenge this.”