In a party-line vote, the North Hempstead Town Board approved a redistricting proposal Thursday night that will reshape the town’s six councilmanic districts for the next 10 years during a heated nearly five-hour meeting.
The vote came after the four North Hempstead Democrats rejected a request by Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, who was elected as a Republican, to table the proposal.
“Looking at the four maps it’s easy to make a compelling argument that it was an attempt to preserve political power for the next decade through gerrymandering,” DeSena said.
“We have time to make sure as many of our residents’ voices are heard as possible in this process, as they will be the ones most affected by all this,” DeSena added. “This will decide the future of all residents in our town for the next 10 years. There’s nothing compelling us to put this to a vote tonight since we have two more board meetings and we can call another meeting. It is important to take our time and do this process directly, otherwise we open the town to potential legal challenges.”
DeSena noted that the Town Board has meetings on July 7 and Aug. 4 ahead of the Aug. 12 deadline for redistricting to be finalized.
The new maps will officially take place on Jan. 1, 2024, and candidates running for election in Districts 2, 4 and 6 next year will be running on the new maps.
The revised map includes splitting the Village of Mineola into two districts, the creation of an Asian plurality district and switching the numbers of District 4, now represented by Town Councilperson Veronica Lurvey, a Democrat, with District 5, now represented by Town Councilman David Adhami, a Republican.
East Williston Mayor Bonnie L.S. Parente and former state Sen. Jack Martins voiced their opposition specifically to how Mineola was cut in half, saying they had to go through a thin line, roughly 500 feet at its narrowest point according to Google Maps, between Districts 1 and 3 where Wheatley Hills Golf Club is located in order to split Mineola.
The new map will also result in moving the election for the district now represented by Lurvey back by two years and moving up the district represented by Adhami two years.
Lurvey said the redistricting was based on data and considered what the different laws require.
“I think this process is not about any one of us or protecting incumbencies,” Lurvey said. “This process was based on numbers, statistics and the seven principles that have been provided. Creating a minority-majority district, including united communities of interest and all the seven principles. I think that’s more important than protecting my seat or any one of our seats.”
Lurvey said the maps were “fair and equitable” and released a statement Monday criticizing DeSena and the Republicans for looking out for themselves.
DeSena also issued a statement Monday that called the maps “gerrymandered” and said the redistricting process had “no transparency.”
“By pushing through maps that create unique problems that the counsel to the redistricting commission admitted have no legal solution in our Town Code, it’s clear that majority council members would rather disenfranchise our residents from voting than install a set of maps that may not be politically advantageous to themselves. Shame on them,” she said.
The redistricting drew heated opposition from mayors throughout the town, who criticized the actual changes and the way in which they were created.
Parente, whose village will change from District 2 to 3, engaged in a back-and-forth discussion with Town Councilman Peter Zuckerman, arguing that he had not informed her of the three public hearings held in May by the town’s nonpartisan redistricting commission.
Parente said she was not engaged in the process but would like to have been, saying to Zuckerman directly that the two see each other at a lot of events and that she wishes she would have told her.
“We stood next to each other on Memorial Day Weekend and you didn’t mention it,” Parente said. “As my councilman, I am asking you not to allow this to move forward this evening.”
Mineola Mayor Paul Pereira read a statement he released Monday and sent to each board member blasting the plan to split the village.
“I cannot support any plan that splits Mineola’s district and strongly urge all members of the Town Board to keep our village whole,” Pereira said Monday in a news release.
Other mayors to speak against the redistricting proposals included Barbara Donno of Plandome Manor and Lawrence Ceriello of Munsey Park, who sent a letter and e-mail that were read into the record, respectively.
Martins, a former mayor of Mineola and a member of the state redistricting commission after its creation in 2014, criticized the Town Board for a lack of transparency, saying the state commission sent out public notices to “get as many people in the area” to participate.
“Certainly we’re aware of how easy it is today to reach out to elected officials,” said Martins, who is running to reclaim his state Senate seat. “Especially with so many villages in the Town of North Hempstead; mayors, trustees, fire chiefs, school board presidents, school board trustees, fire districts, fire commissioners, water commissioners. The list goes on and on. All of them could have been alerted to the fact that we had three hearings.”
Notice of the three public hearings held at town hall, Clinton G. Martin Park at New Hyde Park and the “Yes We Can” Community Center were posted to the town’s website, publications including Blank Slate Media and Newsday and articles on the redistricting process appeared in both publications as well.
Notices were also issued to local TV news outlets and social media networks and advised where the public could submit comments online.
Jeff Wice, legal consultant to the commission, said the steps North Hempstead took were by far more transparent than what he has seen throughout Long Island.
“I think it’s fair to say this has probably been the most open process for any redistricting in Nassau or Suffolk County that I have seen,” said Wice.
Wice has over 40 years of experience in redistricting, voting rights, and census law, serving as counsel to the state Legislature and assisting in all congressional and state legislative redistricting processes dating back to 1980. He is currently an adjunct professor of law at New York Law School where he founded the New York Census and Redistricting Institute.
He said the redistricting commission was bound by seven guidelines under state law. They include that population deviations between the largest and smallest districts cannot exceed 5% and districts cannot be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or minority groups to vote.
The committee also needed to also consider contiguous territories that connect, are compact and avoid political gerrymandering.
The guidelines also state that districts should consider “communities of interest,” which are not defined by law but describe communities that share self-described similarities and villages that comprise less than 40% of a single district’s population should not be divided.
Wice said state law is essentially one of four statutes that have jurisdiction over the redistricting process, including the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and the town charter.
It is currently unclear if the new proposal violates any part of the U.S. Constitution and if the redrawn maps will face legal challenges in the future.
Among the other changes:
District 1, which is currently represented by Democrat Robert Troiano, adds a small portion of Roslyn Heights to its existing areas in Westbury, New Cassel, Old Westbury and Carle Place
District 2, which is represented by Democrat Councilman Peter Zuckerman, loses East Williston, Manhasset Hills, Herricks and parts of Roslyn Heights while gaining North Hills and parts of Mineola to the existing communities in Albertson, East Hills, Glenwood Landing, Greenvale, Roslyn Harbor, parts of Roslyn Heights and Searingtown.
District 3, which is represented by Republican Councilman Dennis Walsh, loses parts of Mineola and Garden City Park while gaining East Williston, parts of Floral Park and North New Hyde Park to its existing communities in parts of Garden City Park and Mineola, New Hyde Park and Williston Park.
District 4, whose number will change to District 5, is represented by Lurvey. It loses North Hills, Roslyn and Roslyn Estates while gaining Munsey Park, Plandome Manor, Plandome Heights, Saddle Rock, Great Neck Estates, Saddle Rock Estates and Harbor Hills to the existing communities in Manhasset, the unincorporated Allenwood Area of Great Neck, Great Neck, Kensington, Kings Point and Thomaston.
Lurvey, who was first elected in 2019, would be able to run for re-election for District 5 in 2025, giving her district six years between electing a member of the Town Board.
District 5, whose number will change to District 4, is represented by Adhami.
Adhami, who was elected in 2021, would run again in 2023 if he sought re-election for the new District 4, giving his district two straight election cycles in that they choose a member of the seven-person Town Board.
The district loses Saddle Rock, Great Neck Estates, parts of both Floral Park and North New Hyde Park, Saddle Rock Estates and Harbor Hills while gaining Manhasset Hills, Herricks and parts of Garden City Park to the existing communities in parts of North New Hyde Park, Garden City Park and Floral Park, Great Neck Plaza, Russell Gardens, University Gardens, Lake Success and other incorporated areas.
When asked by Adhami multiple times about the reason for swapping the election cycles of Districts 4 and 5, Wice said that it was not a requirement or consideration for the commission to keep election cycles in place because town code did not create a statute prohibiting it.
District 6, which is represented by Democrat Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte, loses the villages of Plandome Manor, Plandome, Plandome Heights and Munsey Park while gaining Roslyn and Roslyn Estates to the existing communities in Baxter Estates, Flower Hill Manorhaven, Port Washington, Port Washington North and Sands Point.
Peter Zhang, of Great Neck, told the town board he supported Option 1, which created an Asian minority-majority district and “shows sensitivity to the changing demographics.”
“As you may know, the Asian population in this town has grown significantly in the past 10 years,” Zhang said. “Asian Americans now make up almost 25% of the population of this town, and the diversity of the town needs to be represented and reflected on the Town Board.”
Two members of the seven-member redistricting commission chosen by the Town Board – Mary Kay Barket and James McHugh – were critical of the commission process, with Barket calling it a “big waste of time.”
“It didn’t accomplish what it should have,” Barket said. “It’s the best of the worst.”
McHugh, who was appointed to the redistricting commission by Adhami and served on the commission previously, said in the early 2000s the decision was made to stagger election terms between Districts 2, 4 and 6 and Districts 1, 3 and 5.
He said in 2003 everyone on the Town Board ran for the first election of the first set of districts and has remained since.
McHugh said the commission chose four proposals to present to the Town Board out of an original list of nine.
“It was never the intention of the original creators of these districts to make it that way,” McHugh said, speaking about Districts 4 and 5 swapping election cycles. “To try to manipulate that or change that, when I sat on this commission I said, ‘Why? For what reason, what purpose? To make it more disorganized?’”
Barket and McHugh were two of the seven-member board alongside Chairperson Dana Boylan, Vice Chair Harrison Feuer, Secretary Jill Wasser, Sumeet Datt and Patricia Schneider.
A presentation at the beginning of the meeting was given by Kent Stegall of Citygate GIS, a service that provided consultation on both data analysis and mapping for the commission, who personally drew the lines himself.
Stegall detailed where the original numbers from the 2020 Census are transferred and how it relates to the town in terms of population differences.
According to the 2020 federal census, which was released on Aug. 12, 2021, the Town of North Hempstead’s population grew by 11,317 people to 237,639. This is a 5% increase from the 2010 Census, which listed the Town’s population as 226,322.
The town’s white, non-Hispanic population decreased from 64.8% in 2010 to 53.9% in 2020, according to the data. Its Asian-American population rose from 14.9% to 23% over the past decade, a 62% increase.
Hispanics or Latinos, which made up 12.8% of the town’s population in 2010, grew to more than 20% over the past 10 years to 14.8%. Its Black population declined from 5.3% in 2010 to 4.8% in 2020, statistics showed.
Other races not specified in the census data increased by more than 138.6% throughout the town, jumping from 691 in 2010 to 1,649 in 2020. Individuals representing two or more races nearly doubled over the past decade, growing from 3,872 in 2010 to 6,424 in 2020.
Various villages in the town saw drastic decreases in their white, non-Hispanic populations over the decade, headlined by Lake Success’ 45.9% decline. In 2010, according to statistics, the village had more than 1,900 white, non-Hispanic residents.
A decade later, that number decreased to 1,039. Lake Success’ Asian-American population more than doubled in that time, jumping from 791 residents in 2010 to 1,587 in 2020.
The Villages of South Floral Park, Russell Gardens, Thomaston and New Hyde Park also saw decreases of more than 20% in their white, non-Hispanic populations over the decade. Those villages also recorded increases of more than 60% in their Asian-American populations over the same period, according to statistics.
Asian-American populations increased by more than 50% in most of the North Shore, with the villages of East Williston, Plandome, Kensington, Great Neck Plaza, Munsey Park, Russell Gardens, Plandome Heights, Great Neck, Lake Success and Great Neck Estates showing increases of more than 100% since 2010.
The villages of Roslyn, Kings Point, Mineola, South Floral Park, Saddle Rock, Floral Park, East Hills, Thomaston, Plandome Manor, Williston Park, Roslyn Estates, New Hyde Park and Flower Hill saw increases of more than 50% to their Asian-American populations.
Hispanic or Latino populations in the villages of Kings Point, Roslyn Estates, Plandome Manor, Plandome, East Hills, Williston Park, Roslyn, Plandome Heights and Great Neck Estates grew by 50% since 2010, statistics showed.
Black populations grew by at least 50% in the villages of Roslyn Estates, Kings Point, Plandome Manor, New Hyde Park, Mineola, Sands Point, Great Neck Plaza and Russell Gardens over the decade, according to the figures.
Based on the numbers, each of the six districts did not contain substantially equal numbers of population, requiring the district boundary lines to be altered to balance differences in deviation.
Stegall said of the four options, two were changed following public comments submitted in-person and online after three public hearings in May.
Stegall said aside from the public comments in-person at the three hearings, there were less than 30 certified public comments submitted online.
Stegall said no partisan data was considered in drawing up maps nor was he aware of any Town Board member’s home address, which was questioned multiple times during the public hearing.