Nassau Democrats are accusing the majority Republican party of manipulating current legislative boundaries — as required by law after every census is released — to hold on to power for the next decade.
However, Republican leadership says the legislature must act as soon as possible to ensure that county residents are fairly represented by their government.
“The Republicans are ignoring precedent and ignoring the county charter in a way that clearly improves their chances in November,” said Audrey Kubetin, communications director for the Nassau County Democratic Committee. “The changes they proposed will move 500,000 voters into different districts, which is 44 percent of all voters in the county. They’re making huge changes that will affect hundreds of thousands of voters.”
She added, “It’s shameless, and it’s ridiculous.”
The proposed map splits the currently Republican-held Five Towns into two legislative districts — taking half of Cedarhurst and most of Woodmere and Inwood and placing them into a new western 19th district that goes north to Elmont — and adding Seaford to Republican Denise Ford’s district. Merrick and Bellmore, which is currently in one district under Democrat Dave Denenberg, would be split into two districts, one of which would be combined with Democrat Joseph Scannell’s district. This could lead to one of the legislators losing their seat.
But the new lines more accurately reflect the changes in population variances experienced in Nassau over the past decade and sticks to the requirement of about 70,000 people per district, said Nassau County Legislature Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt.
“One man, one vote is paramount. The Supreme Court says that trumps everything,” Schmitt said. He added that when the county attorney went out to redraw the map from scratch, officials had to keep three things in mind: “We need 19 districts, that the populations need to be similar and we want to preserve town and village lines.”
Schmitt said they did the best job they could to preserve town and village lines while sticking to equally populated districts, and pointed to Massapequa and Farmingdale being rejoined in a single district to support his case.
But Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs alleges the maps are being used for political gain. “The Republicans in the county legislature are running scared,” he said in a release. “With this disastrous record hanging over them, they know the only way to hold onto the majority in November is to gerrymander their opponents into unwinnable seats.”
County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican, did not give an opinion on the proposed map when questioned about it last week. He urged residents to take part in the public hearings on the changes.
Larry Levy, executive dean of Hoftra University’s non-partisan National Center for Suburban Studies and former chief political columnist for Newsday, said the new borders are clearly agenda driven. “This is old-fashioned political gerrymandering,” he said. “It splits communities that looked at themselves as one community for years.”
He added that the new lines have a lot to do with changes in the people who live here. “Demographically, in terms of population trends, the Republicans are trying to keep one step ahead of the Grim Reaper,” Levy said. “More and more people are moving to Long Island who tend to vote Democratic.”
There’s also a political fight over the meaning of the county charter’s clauses on redistricting. One section says that the legislature has to adjust its lines to reflect census data within six months of its receipt, according to Schmitt. The next sections speaks of forming a bi-partisan commission that studies census data and creates a map, which then goes to the legislature.
Republicans say they are abiding by the law by sending the new map to the Rules Committee on Monday at 1 p.m., to a public hearing next Monday at 10 a.m. and to a final legislative vote on May 16. Democrats allege the process keeps the public in the dark and rushes the changes before this year’s election.
“It’s not clear what the spirit of the law is, much less the letter,” Levy said. “It’s not to say if the Democrats were in the same position they wouldn’t have done the same thing.”
He concluded, “It doesn’t mean it’s illegal or unethical, but it’s clearly partisan — in the extreme.”
Legislator Howard Kopel, a Republican who represents the Five Towns, said he has mixed feelings about the proposal. “I’m delighted with the way things are,” he said. “It would be painful to not be the representative of some people of the Five Towns. On the other hand, there are some constitutional and legal issues that require redistricting every 10 years.”
The proposed split could hurt the community pride of the Five Towns, said Stephen Anchin, former president of the Five Towns Democratic Club. “I think it would dilute the amount of attention those communities would get,” he said, referring to Woodmere, Inwood and half of Cedarhurst if it is split off. “It’s one more nail in the coffin of people thinking they live in the same community.”
Anchin said that Kopel shouldn’t just let the district be split, but “he should be up in arms” about it.
“What happened to people that say districting should be non-partisan, fair and equitable?” he asked.
But the minority party always seems to cry foul during the redistricting process.
“Having been here a long time, I know what they’re saying and why they’re saying it,” Schmitt said about the Democrats. “I was in the same position 10 years earlier. That’s what happens. It’s all part of the political system.”