The Hempstead Town Board members present at Town Hall on April 9 voted 5-1 in favor of a new redistricting map, which drew the ire of some residents there for the vote.
The one dissenting vote on the plan was Councilman James Darcy’s, whose district lost part of the Five Towns area.
Town Supervisor Kate Murray was absent from the hearing. Councilman Anthony Santino moderated instead. Santino said Murray was at home and under the weather.
The approved map is made up of six districts “of virtually equal population,” Michael Deery, communications director for the Town of Hempstead, told the Herald. Deery said that Town Attorney Joseph Ra oversaw the redistricting work and made sure that it conformed to state and federal laws. He also said that bipartisan support on the town board helped protect minority voters’ voices.
Residents took turns expressing their concerns and raising questions to the board about the map, which sets voting districts for the next election and all others until after a new census is conducted in 2020. Many residents’ questions and comments expressed accusations of gerrymandering — reshaping districts for political gain — on the part of Republican town officials and what they described as too little attention paid to demographic shifts in minority populations.
Uniondale residents in particular were upset that parts of their area were being referred to as East Garden City.
Steve Anchin, the Hewlett Democratic zone leader, said he believes that town officials have created the new map for their own interests and without regard for the recent census.
“When redistricting is based on political goals and gerrymandered to give one party an advantage, it is to the detriment of citizens,” Anchin said. “It should be nonpartisan and there should be a nonpartisan commission for districts to comply with the population numbers from the new
Santino, who represents the Fourth District, said that the new map is based on equalizing population and follows specific guidelines.
“We make sure that each district is as near in equal population as possible,” Santino said. “That’s one of the purposes of redistricting. The map is proposed by the town and complies with the Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and all applicable federal laws. Redistricting accounts for the concept of ‘one man, one vote.’”
The Democratic Committee and the League of Women Voters of Nassau County separately presented their own maps to counter the town Republicans’ proposal. Speakers from both groups stressed the need for two minority-majority districts, which are districts in which a majority of residents are members of racial minorities.
"The demographics have changed in the last ten years and this new map doesn't represent what exists now. The town doesn't think the numbers support this. Both organizations found the numbers do.The new map is depriving people of like interest from choosing their representatives," said Woodmere resident Michael Turi.
Democratic Committee First Deputy Leader Bob Young said that the district boundaries should have better reflected communities of common interests. Young promised a lawsuit against the town.
Barbara Epstein, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Nassau County, said that she is advocating for fair and transparent planning from the Town of Hempstead and for the creation of a second minority-majority district.
Epstein also said that an issue of such importance deserves to be discussed in more than one morning meeting.
“We believe that the redistricting of Hempstead’s councilmanic districts has significant ramifications for the people of the town [and should not] have just one hearing,” Epstein said. “Today should not be the only opportunity to address the redistricting, which will have lasting effects on all of us for the next 10 years.”
Ra said that the opportunity to create a second minority-majority district did not present itself because District One was overpopulated and had to be reshuffled a bit, but was still kept 99.4 percent intact. District One is represented by Dorothy Goosby, the only Democrat on the board.
Deery told the Herald that the maps presented by the Democratic Committee and League of Women Voters of Nassau County would have actually been counter-productive with regard to the voice of minorities.
“The town’s councilmanic redistricting vigorously safeguards the voting rights of minority voters,” Deery said. “[The] two alternative council district maps presented by other organizations at the April 9 meeting actually diluted the voting power of certain minority communities in council district one. Indeed, one of the alternative maps actually split the Village of Hempstead in half, dividing it between two council districts, thereby weakening the voice of the largest geographic community in our township with a substantial minority population.”
Supervisor Murray and Councilman Darcy were both unavailable for comment.