Editor's note: Since press time, the Hempstead Town Board approved the final redistricting map on Feb. 14. Full story on this update is coming soon.
“Change the boundary, redraw the lines” was the message dozens of community members tried to articulate to the Hempstead Town Board last week. But in the end, many felt their pleas were completely ignored.
Don Clavin faced some heat from the crowd after the town supervisor decided to cut the microphone feed for each speaker off exactly at the required three minutes they were allotted to speak. When Deputy Town Supervisor Dorothy Goosby — who notably challenged Hempstead’s discriminatory at-large voting system in 1988 — was asked if she had anything to say about the redistricting process, she declined to comment.
The Hempstead redistricting saga is nearing its end, and opponents of the proposed maps are not giving up without a fight. A group of angry voters rallied outside of Hempstead Town Hall minutes before the Feb. 7 meeting to air out their frustrations.
Former county legislator Dave Denenberg, who organized the rally, said there is an ulterior motive behind the elected officials drawing the district lines they way they’re doing it.
“Whenever there’s redistricting, you see a political machine do exactly what they always do: They are going to draw districts in a way that tries to maintain their majority,” Denenberg said. “But that’s voter suppression.”
Mimi Pierre-Johnson, founder of the Elmont Cultural Center, said she saw a “glimmer of hope” at the redistricting commission’s last work session. The three commission members seemed they would finally recommend one of the six map proposals to the Hempstead Town Board. These options included the town’s preliminary “Skyline” map, as well as five alternative proposals from civic groups and local attorneys they say would help provide a more equal voice for minority groups.
But that optimism was quickly extinguished when the commission failed to put forward a map, and instead agreed to officially recommend the town board produce a final map that keeps communities of interest intact.
“They didn’t have the courage to go all the way,” Pierre-Johnson said.
Since the first day of the redistricting process, the concerns raised by opponents to the initial town-drawn maps circle back to a single theme: District lines should be redrawn to have a more balanced demographic representation. That means creating three “minority-majority” districts, that would allow minority communities a chance to elect someone who would be more likely to represent them on the town board.
For example, 90 percent of Elmont’s population are people of color. However, the current map proposal places Elmont in a district with Garden City, which has an 88 percent white population.
Placing Elmont in a district with neighborhoods they have nothing in common with dilutes the votes of its residents and impairs the outcome of elections, claimed Claudia Borecky, president of the Bellmore Merrick Democratic Club, in a letter to the Hempstead Town Board.
“People told heart-wrenching stories of how hard they and their ancestors fought for the right to have a vote that counted,” Borecky said. “Yet, the motion made by the redistricting commission for the Town Board to only consider keeping communities whole is totally deaf to what your constituents plead.”
Under the guidance of the Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders law firm and redistricting expert Sean Trende, the Town Board released a redistricting map proposal last month, which they say takes into account public comments as well as the views of the redistricting commission.
However, some doubted these intentions.
“If (the town) passes this map, I’m going to Garden City because that’s my district,” Pierre-Johnson said. “I’m going to show up with my friends to (Garden City) town meetings, to the zoning board, because I want what they have for Elmont.”
Critics also questioned the map’s compliance with federal and state voting rights protections — specifically the Voting Rights Act and New York’s John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act. If Hempstead finalizes the current map as it stands, it could expose the town to costly litigation at the taxpayers’ expense.
“This is socioeconomic racism to the core — disenfranchisement and blatant discrimination,” said Pearl Jacobs, a Uniondale resident and president of the Nostrand Gardens Civic Association.
“I really hope that this goes to the courts so they can shed a light, nationwide, on the racism that occurs in Nassau County.”