Examiner: Nassau County GOP advances gerrymandered redistricting map; final vote Feb 25

Nassau County GOP advances gerrymandered redistricting map; final vote Feb 25

February 13, 2013 [Original article here]

Dozens of Nassau County, Long Island communities will be shocked to find that they are slated to be sliced and diced in the latest incarnation of the Republican redistricting map, only revealed a few days ago, and adopted along partisan lines, 4-3 by the Republican-dominated Rules Committee, mere seconds after a six-hour public hearing finished in which not a single speaker spoke in favor of the Republican map.

No other map - not the Democratic proposal nor a non-partisan map produced by the Nassau County Redistricting Coalition - was considered nor allowed to be considered in the hearing.

That means that the Republican map - which would slice Roslyn in four parts - will be put to the full County Legislature on February 25, where after another sham public hearing, it will likely pass by the one-vote Republican majority.

The blatantly gerrymandered map is designed to seal a Republican Majority, even a 12-7 Supermajority, for the next decade, despite demographic shifts that favor a majority population of Democratic voters.

Indeed, it appears that the Republican map produced by the Republicans on the Nassau County temporary Districting commission, was a red-herring, designed to stoke certain groups and give the same mapmakers, Skyline, working on behalf of the Republican party, cover to come up with a new map that inflicts damage on communities that will never realize what hit them.

Indeed, the new map silenced one of the biggest opposing blocs: Great Neck Peninsula, which in two previous Republican plans, was split in half in order to dilute the Peninsula's political power, the Jewish vote and Democrats, and pit Democratic incumbents against each other.

The new plan that Republicans pulled out just 96 hours before the Feb. 11 public hearing, restored Great Neck Peninsula, but inflicted damage on other communities that previously had no inclination they were slated to be sliced apart.

It's virtually impossible to know, though, because the map that has been published by the Republicans does not show street names or village names.

Nor is there any backup material that shows the rationale - the population numbers and demographic make-up - to justify.

"The entire process is nothing but bait and switch," Legislator Wayne Wink (D-11) said hardly disguising his disgust after six hours of the hearing, suggesting that some of the most despised changes in the earlier Republican proposal were changed in order for Republicans to claim (in court, most likely) that they did, in fact "listen" to the public outcry. But they cannot justify coming out with another map without any public input whatsoever, in the 11th hour, virtually behind the back of the affected communities who had no time to be made aware or comment on the changes.

"This map was proposed Wednesday evening, on the eve of a big snowstorm," Wink said. "That’s going to be moot point and fait accompli. This thing has been in existence for less than one week and Roslyn community is only now finding out is being divided- wasn’t part of commission map, not even [Nassau County Attorney John] Ciampoli map [produced in secret in 2011 and prevented from going into effect for the 2011 election by a Judge because it failed to follow the three-step process in the County charter]. This map was not part of discussion until Wednesday night – let’s be clear – you haven’t heard from Roslyn yet, because Roslyn didn’t know [about the redistricting] until now," he said to applause.

"The Commission purposely drew the ire of Great Neck, and in end Roslyn bears the brunt, because Roslyn was kept whole until 11th hour," Wink said. "There is every possibility Republicans will hold hearing and vote the same day on exact map because they won’t entertain amendments [at the February 25 Legislative meeting], and given time period people have to analyze, a lot of communities will suffer that never knew were in the crosshairs until Wednesday night. It's reprehensible. Putting communities at risk that weren’t at risk before, and without any fair public notice," Wink said.

Wink posed his questions to Francis X Moroney, County Executive Mangano's appointed chairman of the Nassau County Temporary Districting Commission and now the paid spokesperson for the Republican Majority, who has been the only person put forward to speak to the Republican map, even though he insisted he had nothing to do with the actual mapmaking. Nor would he say who instructed the Republican mapmaker, Skyline. Moroney has repeatedly insisted that the only instructions the Republican mapmakers had was to "disregard incumbency." Except that when he recited demographic percentages, he used Citizen Voting Age Population, instead of Voting Age Population.

That raises the question whether other demographic factors were considered in choosing how the lines would be drawn - whether voter registration, voting behavior, income, and other factors were considered.

Wink, who was one of the few who could analyze the map to see the impact on specific neighborhoods, said, "Look at the communities split, Many are split for first time – Roslyn, Five towns (which historically always has been one entity), Hewlett into two, Woodmere into four, Lawrence in two, Merrick in two. Notwithstanding Elmont, Jericho, Syosset, Woodbury, all these communities have something in common, and it's not just that from time to time they vote Democratic. It seems to me suspect … the Jewish population is being sliced and diced for purpose to guarantee republican majority and no other reason."

Moroney parried and thrust: "I respectfully disagree. It may be an inflammatory thing to get your people out. No religious basis for drawing any of these districts, was even considered."

Wink retorted, "The map speaks for itself, in this case, the facts speak for themselves," triggering another round of applause.

Noting that yet another hat that Moroney wears is as the President of the North Hempstead Republican Club, Wink noted that the present map has five legislators that touch upon North Hempstead under current map, of which four are Democrats, but North Hempstead would gain two legislative districts, which are drawn to be Republican.

"It sounds like Republican leader of NH would really want to see happen and would make happen if he were able," Wink said, asking if the population of these districts has changed radically in the last 10 years.

Moroney pointed to changing demographics - increasing percentages of Hispanic and Asian population, but after several attempts by Wink, finally conceded that the total populations of the districts has not changed substantially.

The Rules Committee, which is supposed to represent the Legislature, confined itself to the Republican proposal, and only allowed Moroney to speak to the map.

Bonnie Garone, who was the chair of the Democratic commissioners, was not provided an opportunity to present the Democratic proposal as an alternative, but was only begrudgingly allowed to speak as any other member of the public, getting more than the three minutes allotted by getting others to yield their time to her (at the end, though, in response to Democratic member questioning, she was given more time).

When she did speak, Garone again called the Redistricting Commission process "a sham" and "a charade," pointing out that the Republicans never came together in any attempt to come up with a consensus proposal (nor did any of the Republican commissioners make any comments during the hearings, nor take an active role in presenting their plan. Moroney did his best to block communication between the sides (Garone had to get the Republican commissioners' email addresses on her own), and at the hearing, none of the Republican commissioners offered any comments, answered any direct questions, nor seemed to have any real understanding of the map that their side proposed.

"Other proof Commission was nothing than a sham was that public was virtually ignored. At the first meeting when we adopted principles to guide the process, the chair wouldn’t let public speak before voted – because he said public input was gratuitous. I don’t think he meant to say it, but he said it and he meant it. That governed the rest of the process. Yes, we had a meeting on January 3, and two maps were put up for comment. People sat for hours to speak. People were eloquent, spoke from heart, cared about process. People said the commission should adjourn, have a working session to see if we could incorporate the two maps. The chairman said no, that we would vote. What is the point of having public input if we would vote the second it was finished. Clearly because public input was gratuitous."

That s what happened at the February 11 Rules Committee meeting as well, when after about 100 speakers - every one against the Republican plan - over the course of more than six hours, Presiding Officer Norma L. Gonsalves did not miss a beat but called for the vote, which was a forgone conclusion, 4-3.

Why have the commission or the public hearings at all? Because they are required under the County Charter, and it was on that basis that a judge threw out the map concocted in secret by Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli in 2011.

When Republicans were asked by Fred Brewington how many voters were moved, none answered, but Legislator Judy Jacobs responded that 359,173 voters - or 30% of Nassau county voters - would be moved to new districts under the Republican map.

This compares to 680,000 who would have been moved by the prior Republican map the Commission came up with, while the Democratic proposal, which aims to keep the existing districts as intact as possible, would move fewer than 50,000.

Moroney, probably to reinforce the record for when the redistricting is challenged in court, insisted, "The US Constitution requires that principle of one-man, one vote be implemented – this is embodied in case law. These districts must be equal population. For districting at state, local – courts interpreted compliance, maintain population plus or minus 5% the optimal number, 70,573. That means there can be a maximum 10% from the smallest to the largest district.

Nearly 100 people came to the hearing in a cold rain, giving up a day of work, paying for childcare to be at the hearing.

Not a single speaker supported the Republican plan.

Henry Boitel of Rockville Center "vigorously protested" that Rockville Center would be divided into five parts.

"The Rockville Center name is not even on the [Republican] map. I attended a number of hearings. What I see today was predictable from the first meeting, a microcosm of what is sucking the life out of Nassau County and the country. I wish had a mirror to put up to you, for this committee to suggest this map is fair and reasonable, for Moroney to say the production of these maps was characterized by 'unprecedented transparency' [drawing cynical laughter].

"George Orwell had a name, Newspeak, for this, where you call things the way you want them to be seen and not the way they really are and change it when suits your convenience. Do you people realize what you are doing to our county by pulling this sort of nonsense consistently? I suggest to you there has been no commission process in this matter.

"This case went to the New York court of appeals, and judges unanimously –Republican and Democratic- said the Legislature had violated the law by not having the Commission process. The commission process was devised to get the courts to approve what Nassau County to approve what authorized in the first place – gerrymandering to deprive people reasonable representation.

"What we have here, the Commission spent close to nine months hearing the community say 'Please don’t break us up, be fair and reasonable.' That was predictable. No discussion by the commission, no exchange of public views, no indication of what the options were with regard to redistricting, no specification to the community on the website or commission proceedings as to present map as to what the problems were – never once discussed in public. [applause]

"Listening to this newspeak throughout these proceedings the whole purpose for having a commission, whole idea that people from community part of the process, has been violated. I suggest we are back to square one, when it goes to the courts, lack of a real commission will require the whole process be started all over again." (applause)

David Stonehill charged, "This map is just as bad as the previous one."

He questioned why communities with large numbers of Jewish voters (who are presumed to vote Democratic) including Roslyn, Syosset, Woodbury, Jericho and West Hempstead, as well as other communities with shared interest like Elmont, Rockville Center, New Hyde Park, Garden City Park, East Meadow, are broken up.

"The effect of new map is same as previous, an unfortunate attempt by Republicans to seize and maintain political power by eliminating Democratic incumbents, not through [a fair contest of] talented candidates, but through the redistricting process. Nassau County Democrats are displaced. You say incumbency was not a factor, so it is strange that four Democratic incumbents would have to primary each other because are combined into two districts. [Two Republicans would be put against each other but it is widely believed that Joseph v. Belesi intends to retire]

"So why the massive changes? Why not utilize a conservative approach which moves as few voters a possible while providing for relatively equal populations. Republicans don’t defend the map, they just say their map is legal, and give no other rationale. [The mapmaking process] is secret and hidden. Why have Republicans resorted to a nuclear option in drawing lines? Are they that afraid of Democratic voters, changing demographics, and Republicans losing power and influence in New York State? What kind of precedents are Republicans looking to establish with this map? Should future Democrats eliminate Republicans through redistricting?

"The lawfulness will be decided by judicial system, what a shame and waste we have to go through this process."

Though the Republicans never actually denied that their map was gerrymandered, the Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves, while displaying complete ignorance of federal and state laws regarding voting rights beyond a statement she was handed to read, insisted that there was no "official" definition of gerrymandering.

But Brian Paul of NY Common Cause, who devised a nonpartisan alternative map for the Nassau County United Redistricting Coalition that followed all the principles and criteria for redistricting, provided the definition of gerrymandering "to manipulate boundaries of electoral districts so as to favor one party or class," and added, "This is textbook gerrymandering If you look at underlying voter data, the lines are intentionally drawn to pack Democrats into seven Superdistricts, where they outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, versus Republican districts where they outnumber Democrats 42 to 22%."

The Republican map, he said, only has four competitive districts – the definition of gerrymander – a plan to steal election, to render voters irrelevant is not what the Founders intended. Elections should be decided on issues, not through tricks like gerrymanderering – no obstacle to drawing a competitive map, responsible to the citizens.

"This is political conspiracy," he declared, "an attempt to rig the election. Citizens will hold you accountable.

But that is the point, they don't expect to be held accountable. Around the country, Democratic voters have outnumbered Republicans but they still yield fewer representatives than their votes would suggest, so no, Republicans will not be held accountable in Nassau County, for at least 10 years when a new census will require a new map. There were 1.4 million more Democratic votes cast for Congress members, and yet Republicans held a significant majority.

Presiding Officer Gonsalves insisted that the purpose of redistricting is to insure the principle "one person, one vote," but gerrymandering is aimed at doing the opposite - undervaluing certain votes and overvaluing others.

Other speakers argued that the Republican map is a violation of the Voting Rights Act and bemoaned the hundreds of years struggle to get the vote.

Legislator Judy Jacobs asked Moroney that a representative of Skyline, the consulting company hired by the Republicans to produce the plan, be made available at the February 25 meeting of the Legislature, so that they could provide the rationale for drawing the lines as they have.

They could be asked whether voter registrations were taken into account, or prior voting behaviors.

Moroney, who could not say which "hat" he was wearing when he spoke for the Republican map - whether as chairman of the Commission or as spokesperson for the Republican majority which commissioned the mapmakers, spoke eloquently in order to establish the map had fulfilled the legal requirements for redistricting, even pointing to the ceration of a third minority-majority district, the new District 14.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams questioned Moroney's statement that the point of a minority majority district was "so they could elect a candidate that looks like them."

"It is a language of art," Moroney slickly said. "The purpose behind minority majority districts is to permit protected minority to compete in the process, to make sure the vote isn’t diluted for purpose of allowing competitive participation."

"It means that members of those group have no less opportunity to participate.. and elect representatives of their own choice."

He argued that the Republican plan allows for the demographic changes already underway so that over the course of the decade, the districts will not exceed the plus-five or minus-five target population, and criticized the Democratic proposal, which moves a minimal number of voters, because too many of the districts would already be close to the maximum [it is not clear where in the rules it says that the districts have to be drawn so that over the course of 10 years, they would still be within the plus or minus 5% range).

The people in Elmont and Hempstead, Uniondale and other predominantly African-American communities do not see it that way, but see well established communities, which have strong political organizations, being torn apart and stuffed into new communities where they will have little or no clout.

It was clear, though that the Rules Committee was similarly an exercise in futility, and one can expect a similar.

Several pointed out that there would be ample time to hold additional public hearings before the February 25 meeting of the full legislature , and then recess to hold additional working sessions or public hearing after the February 25 hearing before the March 5 deadline when the county is due to have its redistricting map.

But there seems little likelihood of the Legislature encouraging additional public hearings.

Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner

© 2013 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved.


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