Editorial: Nassau GOP seeks power through district maps

Editorial: Nassau GOP seeks power through district maps

The white and non-Hispanic population makes up 52.4% of the Town of Hempstead, according to the U.S. Census.

So, one might expect the six town districts to reflect the almost 50-50 split between whites and minorities — with three districts with a white majority and three districts with a non-white majority.

With Republican Donald Clavin, who is white, serving as town supervisor that would give whites a 4-3 edge on the town board.

But amid boos from the audience, the Town Board voted unanimously last week to adopt a map that maintains the current 5-1 advantage for majority-white districts.

“These maps, frankly, are gerrymandering using the tactic of cracking,” said Terry Bain, a retired immigration judge from Rockville Centre.

Cracking in redistricting dilutes the voting power of the opposing party across different districts, which means some people’s votes count less than others.

There are major political stakes in the outcome of this.

The Town of Hempstead, with nearly 760,000 people, has more than half the population of Nassau County at 1.392 million and is by far the largest town in New York State

If it were a city, the Town of Hempstead would be the second largest in the state trailing only New York City and would be among the top 20 in the United States.

Currently, Hempstead’s Town Board is made up of Clavin and four Republican council members, all of whom are white, and Democrat Dorothy Goosby, who is black.

The sixth board seat awaits a replacement for Anthony D’Esposito, a white Republican who was elected to Congress to represent NY4 in November. With Esposito, white Republicans held a 6-1 edge on the town board.

It is true that white voters who are Republican might support a black candidate and black voters who are black would support a white candidate.

But it has just never happened in the Town of Hempstead in the more than 100 years in which Republicans have been in control of the town.

This control of Hempstead has, in turn, helped make the Nassau County Republican Party what some consider to be among the last big city political machines in the country.

Earlier in last week’s meeting, Clavin raised hopes that the Town Board would consider the requests brought by more than a dozen residents who came out to oppose the proposed redistricting.

He said he did not know when the maps would be voted on – shortly before the vote for the districts was called.

Believing that there actually was a possibility of the board making changes, Catherine DeSantis, of Rockville Centre, said the Town Board should consider new maps that provide alternative options.

“The board should make some adjustments to the current proposal and create a map that is more fair, compliant, compact, respectful of communities of color and has less cracking,” DeSantis said.

She was right.

And Hempstead residents were not alone in their opposition to drawing districts to favor one political party or group. At least in theory.

State Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy protested loudly – and justifiably – earlier in 2022 when Democrats in the state Legislature gerrymandered congressional maps in violation of an amendment to the state Constitution.

The amendment, which was passed under Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 by both Democrats and Republicans after two public referendums, created legally enforceable protections in state law against partisan gerrymandering.

“New York Democrats have hijacked the redistricting process and this week passed and signed into law the most filthy, textbook gerrymandering that will destroy competitive elections in New York if allowed to stand,” Langworthy said in response to a congressional map approved by the state Legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul. ”Democrats brazenly subverted the will of the people who voted twice by referendum to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians and give district drawing powers to an independent, bipartisan panel.”

We agreed with Langworthy then and agree with him now.

But the Town of Hempstead board was unmoved by his words. Come to think of it, so apparently was Langworthy, who thus far has remained silent about the Town of Hempstead.

This is known as situational ethics. Langworthy’s call for fairness in elections appears to have only included district maps in which Democrats have the advantage.

We are in the process of witnessing the same forces at work in the Nassau County Legislature, which is now redrawing its districts after Republicans and Democrats on an advisory commission could not reach an agreement

Kevan Abrahams, the Legislature’s Democratic minority leader, said in a letter to Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello, the Republicans’ proposed map fails to create five majority-minority districts and an Asian-American influence district, thereby diluting the voting power of minority communities across our county.”

The county’s minority population has also grown to more than 40 percent of Nassau’s headcount at a time when only four of the Legislature’s 19 members are members of minorities. The one Republican, Mazi Melesa Pilip, is an Ethiopian Jew who represents the 10th District.

Abrahams said the Republicans’ proposed map was in violation of the Municipal Home Rule Law, equal voting rights under Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York.

The drawing of gerrymandered districts – as opposed to running better candidates with better ideas to represent their constituents – appears to be Nassau Republicans’ preferred means of holding control of Hempstead and county government.

Nassau Republicans used a 10-9 advantage in seats in 2014 to draw a map with 12 districts that had more Republican registered voters than Democrats – at a time when Democrats had a 20,000-vote advantage among registered voters in the county.

To create the 12-7 advantage, Republican legislators had to draw a crazy-quilt map that ignored community boundaries. In several cases, communities, including Roslyn, were divided into four districts.

As of Feb. 21, 2021, the Democratic advantage over Republicans in registered voters had risen to nearly 100,000 – 434,327 to 335,771.

But in the last county election, the Republican advantage in the Legislature returned to 12-7. And this year, Republican legislators have once again developed a map that divides Roslyn into four districts.

Several residents said the map drawn by the Town of Hempstead will be challenged in court as it was in 2013 – and as Langworthy and his fellow Republicans did with congressional maps in 2022.

A state court eventually agreed with Langworthy that state Democrats had violated New York’s constitution and threw out the congressional map they had drawn. The judge then appointed a special master to draw up what would be some of the most politically balanced maps in the nation.

The redrawn map goes a long way toward explaining why Democrats in New York lost four congressional districts in the recent elections.

Combined with partisan gerrymandering that took place in Republican-controlled states like Texas and Florida, it also helps explain why Republicans were able to capture the House of Representatives.

The drawing of maps in Hempstead and Nassau also has major consequences with everything from how the county is policed to home assessments to where money is spent and on what.

Is the Town of Hempstead board and the Nassau County Legislature required to follow federal and state law?

We hope so. That sounds like what it will take for district maps to be drawn fairly in Hempstead and Nassau County. The alternative appears to be more of the same.

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