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Nassau County minority legislators focus on county map

Democrats want independent redistricting commission

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The Democrats in the Nassau County Legislature are asking for changes in how the county’s legislative map is drawn. They may be a little early, since redistricting will not be considered until 2023, but ensuring equal representation for every resident is on their minds, they say, and since they are in the minority, it probably is never too soon to at least start a discussion.

“I can’t believe it’s almost 10 years since we did this,” Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a Democrat from Glen Cove, said. “One map last time had me and Judy Jacobs in the same district. The one that ended up being used had me with Wayne Wink, but I got lucky. He ran for town clerk. I love my job, so I’m hoping for the best. I hope I can stay around.”

The Democrats held a press conference on Aug. 12 at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building to announce their ideas about fair redistricting. They said they would like to see a temporary Independent Redistricting Commission draw new legislative district lines to promote equal representation and protect the sanctity of residents’ voting rights, irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status.

After data from the 2020 census is finalized, the commission would use the results to adopt a redistricting plan, instead of the legislators from the two political parties, “specifying the boundaries of the county’s 19 county legislative districts.” 

“The majority will review the proposal from the Democratic minority as we do all bills,” said Chris Boyle, spokesman for the Republican majority. “It is difficult to understand why in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic and fiscal crisis the minority chooses to focus their energy on changing the county’s redistricting process.”

Legislator Josh Lafazan, an independent from Woodbury, participated in the press conference. He said when he ran in 2017 he pledged to work on redistricting. If elections are not fair, he said, people can serve for a lifetime.

“Both parties are guilty of utilizing majority status to write the maps,” he said. “That’s why I favor term limits. We have strayed so far from the Founders vision for our country, which was citizen representation on a temporary basis.”

When districts are not drawn in a fair way, Lafazan said, the people’s trust erodes. “To put partisanship aside would build trust among people,” he said. “This is an issue that will outlast all of us legislators. For the county to have an independent redistricting done would be a good legacy for us to leave.”

When redistricting was considered in February 2013, legislators listened for six hours to a public comment session that included hundreds of county residents who vehemently opposed the Republican map. There were accusations of racism and gerrymandering, with some saying the map was merely a power grab by the Republican Party.  

Residents had said the map would split communities into separate districts. But Frank Moroney, the chairman of the redistricting commission at the time, said that the proposed map was designed to fulfill the constitutional requirements to create districts as close to the optimal population as possible in order to meet the “one person, one vote” standard. He said the intent was to respect political subdivisions, community and minority interests and to keep districts compact and contiguous where possible.

De-Riggi Whitton said she believed there should be a public hearing this time when redistricting is considered. Saying that she cannot fathom what Republicans can do to change the map, she added that it is pretty much in their favor now. 

Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, also took part in the Aug. 12 press conference. 

“The last plan was horrible,” she said. “It separated and continued segregation on Long Island. The representatives don’t look like their community. It’s time now to make a change.”

Tyson, who is not a member of either party, said the current map is unethical. It is unfortunate, she said, that most people do not know what redistricting is. “Real people” should be in office, she said. “The government needs to reflect the people.”

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams said that the creation of an independent redistricting commission would liberate Nassau County voters from decades of election districts that exist primarily to advance the political interests of politicians over people. “Because voters will have real choices in competitive elections, it will no longer be safe for elected officials to ignore the interests of large segments of Nassau County’s electorate,” Abrahams said. “To oppose this bill is to sacrifice the common good of the people in Nassau in favor of the selfish interests of the few.”