The Island Now

Dems ask top court to stop GOP redistrict plan

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Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2011 10:47 am

The New York State Appellate Division Court last week upheld a controversial GOP redistricting plan that would reduce the number of Democratic incumbent districts in the Nassau County Legislature.

Both sides are due in the state's highest court Aug. 24 for an appeal filed by Democrats.

"We are very gratified that the appellate division has upheld our county charter, as we fully expected," said Majority Leader Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), in an e-mail.

The four-judge panel was deadlocked 2-2 before appellate division Judge Reinaldo Rivera of Brooklyn was brought in to cast the deciding vote.

"I'm very disappointed," said Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth (D-Great Neck). "I'm puzzled at this ruling, and I'm hopeful that it will in fact be overturned in the court of appeals."

If upheld in court, the redistricting map would split Bosworth's District 10 by adding the Village of Lake Success and part of the hamlet of University Gardens into Legislator Wayne Wink's (D-Roslyn) District 11.

It would also split existing minority communities to create a new minority district and reduce the number of incumbent Democratic districts by merging that of Nassau County legislators Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) and Joseph Scannell (D-Baldwin), and that of Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove), who has said she is not seeking re-election, with that of Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury).

The redistricting plan would also make all of North New Hyde Park, part of which is now in District 9, entirely part of District 11.

A seven-judge panel in the Court of Appeals will likely determine whether county legislators run on old or new district lines in the November general election. The panel consists of four Republicans and three Democrats.

Nassau County Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs said he is not worried about the political makeup of the Republican-leaning panel, saying of the judges, "they all tend to be pretty fair."

A civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court by Hempstead attorney Frederick Brewington was put on hold pending the appellate decision, but Brewington said he will seek to resume the case. It alleges the redistricting map implemented by the Republican majority splits and dilutes African American and Hispanic votes in western Nassau.

"Therefore, making their ability to elect the candidate of their choice a figment of somebody's imagination as opposed to reality," he said. "And the Republican claim that they are helping minorities is hogwash."

Jacobs said it is unlikely that a federal court decision would take effect before the November election.

"You can't have all of this craziness," he said. "At a certain point you have to have an election."

Although Democrats did not run petitions on the new district lines, including the newly drawn 19th District, Jacobs said the courts would not allow a "blanking" of the Democratic Party line.

In the case of legislators Denenberg and Scannell, a Republican win in the Court of Appeals would force a primary, but Jacobs is hoping "we could work it out."

"The Nassau Republican machine, they're just bad people," Jacobs said. "They do bad things, and that's I think what we have to beat. That's not Republicans in general."

Democrats have called the redistricting map a power grab by Republicans, who control the Legislature by a two-person margin.

Republican leaders have maintained 2010 census data requires an immediate response due to population growth that left minority voters underrepresented.

The Democratic lawsuit was based on differing interpretations of the county charter's redistricting process.

According to Republicans, the county charter sets up a three-step redistricting process, with immediate redistricting after each census in time for the next election. A bipartisan commission would then amend district boundaries in March 2012, as mandated by the county charter.

Democrats have said the county charter only requires redistricting by a bipartisan commission, after extensive public input.

Section 112 of the county charter mandates that legislative districts be "described" after each census, while sections 113 and 114 set up a bipartisan process.

Bosworth said the legislative intent was clear, but called it a "mistake" that 112 was not amended after 113 and 114 were added to the charter.

"I wish 112 had been revised after 113 and 114 came into play," she said.

Welcome to the discussion.