Committee approves redistricting maps for Town of Hempstead


They were angry, expressing those feelings as shame on the Hempstead Town Board. They are the group that has attended meeting after meeting, hoping to get some voice into how town board district lines would be redrawn, only to end up disappointed.

It was an unsurprising end, but one that resulted in boos.

“That’s nice, ladies and gentlemen,” Town Supervisor Don Clavin said, with unmistakable sarcasm. “That’s very polite of you.”

They had pushed for what they considered to be better representation on the town board — providing more opportunities for Hempstead’s growing minority populations to serve in elected positions through the creation of majority-minority districts. If they had passed, districts would be created where ethnic minorities were, in fact, the voting majority.

But none of them came to pass. Most surprisingly, with the help of Deputy Town Supervisor Dorothy Goosby — who notably challenged what she called Hempstead’s discriminatory at-large voting system in 1988 — who remained silent throughout the redistricting process, only to finally vote yes to the new map.

“In this moment in time, we are reinventing the same revisionist, segregationist history that has kept so many people behind,” said Mida Mereday of Baldwin. “Our voices have not been heard all this time — it’s not going to be anything different.”

Since the beginning of the Hempstead redistricting discussions, the concerns raised by opponents to the initial town-drawn maps has not changed: District lines should be redrawn to have a more balanced demographic representation.

But under the guidance of the Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders law firm as well as redistricting expert Sean Trende, the Town Board released a redistricting map proposal last month they said took into account public comments as well as the views of the redistricting commission — who recommended the board keep communities intact.

However, some doubted these intentions. When looking at the final map, attendees said there are communities still in danger of “packing” and “cracking,” such as Elmont, Uniondale, North Bellmore and Baldwin.

These methods fall under partisan gerrymandering — giving one side an advantage in a single district but no others, or simply breaking up voter blocs so a particular type of candidate can’t get enough support to win.

“The New York state constitution (says) the district shall not be drawn to discourage competition, or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or any other particular candidates or parties,” said Terry Bain, a former immigration judge from Rockville Centre. “It looks to me like this proposal may violate this spirit, as well as the letter of our state constitution.”

If Hempstead finalizes this current map, it could expose the town to costly litigation — all at taxpayer expense. Especially since a number of people in the audience who oppose the new map say they are willing to take the matter to court.

Hempstead’s town track record with communities of color hasn’t been exactly stellar. For example, between 1922 and 1969, Nassau County required voters to present a literacy certificate, creating a disproportionate impact on Black voters — many who were never taught how to read and write.

Hempstead town officials required this proof until 1971, several years after Congress outlawed such tests.

Then, in 1988, Goosby filed a class-action lawsuit against the Hempstead town board for what she described as its discriminatory at-large voting system, which serves majority populations, and more often-than-not leaving minorities out in the cold.

A federal judge ruled the town’s method of voting-at-large as discriminatory in 1997, violating the Voting Rights Act. Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the town’s appeals, forcing a special election for all board seats in 2000.

Dan Oppenheimer, a Hempstead village resident, says it’s interesting the final redistricting map was adopted while one of the six council district seats — formerly occupied by now U.S. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito — remains vacant.

As the vacancy approaches two months, some are anticipating the Hempstead town board will continue its ages-old tradition of appointing someone to fill the seat. These vacancies are often created when a council member runs successfully for another position. Recent appointments by the board to the town council include Thomas Muscarella, Melissa Miller and Dennis Dunne.

Clavin’s response to this practice when questioned about it was only that the board plans to “comply with Town of Hempstead law.”

“This is not something to do with voting representation when you have a history, year in and year out, of appointing rather than allowing for votes,” Oppenheimer told Clavin. “You are bypassing the electoral system that the districts are supposed to address.”