Nassau County Legislator Ellen Birnbaum (D-Great Neck) defended the county’s assessment phase-in process and echoed Democratic calls for an independent redistricting committee in an interview with Blank Slate Media on Tuesday.
Birnbaum, who was first elected in 2013, is running for re-election to the county’s 10th Legislative District, which covers Manhasset, Manhasset Hills, North Hills, Searington, Herricks and the nine villages on the Great Neck peninsula.
This year’s election for Birnbaum and other members of the Legislature is taking place after new data arrived from the U.S. census that will be used for redistricting in the county.
Birnbaum agreed with the opinion of Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who has advocated that the county adopt a fair and nonpartisan redistricting committee to ensure gerrymandering does not occur for either party. With shifting demographics, an increased number of registered Democrats, and different community needs, Birnbaum said redistricting should not be a political matter.
“I will stand with Kevan and I think that it is a good idea to have more of an independent commission rather than a partisan one,” Birnbaum said.
Birnbaum, a longtime resident of Great Neck, said she remembers the public opposition to splitting the peninsula into separate legislative districts. She also acknowledged that parts of the peninsula are represented by several members of the town council, saying all factors needed to be taken into account while drawing legislative districts.
All eight members of the Democratic legislative minority abstained from voting on a proposal set forth by Republican officials that aims to cut roughly $100 million in county fees. Birnbaum said she abstained in order to aid in the county putting forth a balanced budget for the coming year.
“Philosophically, I don’t like fees and added costs for services that might not cost really much to perform, so I wasn’t in favor of most of these fees to begin with,” Birnbaum said. “Now, when there’s a budget that has over $100 million in revenue from these fees, it would need to be replaced by an equal amount of funding or an expense reduction in order for the budget to be balanced.”
The Republican majority in the Legislature has also been critical of the county’s reassessment phase-in that was introduced by County Executive Laura Curran. Birnbaum defended the need for the phase-in, saying there were equal amounts of people overpaying and underpaying taxes and that the reassessment will result in that balancing out over time.
Despite the past year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, Birnbaum said other issues the county faces include properly allocating federal funds, aiding various downtown business districts and exploring opportunities for potential transit-oriented development.
Birnbaum lauded the county for the ways it has promoted local businesses over the past year, citing sales tax revenue this year that has been higher than anticipated. Though programs such as Boost Nassau have been established to aid business owners recoup some of the losses they experienced since March 2020, Birnbaum said, more can be done to revitalize business districts across the county.
“We have to think of ways outside of just having people drive their cars everywhere they need to go,” Birnbaum said. “When I first lived in Great Neck … I would be able to walk to the train, be able to commute, be able to go to local parks, be able to walk to the downtown area and do my shopping, meet people and eat at a restaurant.”
Birnbaum said some districts would also benefit from incorporating mixed-use developments and designing parts of their downtown areas to attract a younger audience. She also said it is important that developments are affordable for various residents, not just luxury housing.
When asked why people should vote for her rather than her Republican opponent, Mazi Melesa Pilip, Birnbaum touted her experience working in the Legislature and said she will continue to find ways to improve Nassau County if re-elected.
“I am a full-time legislator, I come to my office almost every day and spend much of my time talking directly to constituents, answering phone calls, and being out in the community,” Birnbaum said. “I consider Nassau … to be the best place to live and my role as an elected official is to make our communities better.”
The entire interview with Birnbaum can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9Z71NGmApY&t=1475s.