Nassau holds second redistricting hearing amid calls for more transparency

Nassau holds second redistricting hearing amid calls for more transparency
James Oppenheimer presents a map of his legislative district to the Nassau County Temporary Districting Advisory Committee. (Photo by Brandon Duffy)

The Nassau County Temporary Districting Advisory Commission held their second of six public hearings Thursday night amid more calls for transparency in the process from Democratic-appointed commissioners and members of the public.

The hearing, held at North Hempstead Town Hall, featured the commission composed of five members appointed by the Legislature’s Republican majority, five by the Democratic minority and a non-voting chairman appointed by Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman.

David Mejias, a former Democratic legislator who served from 2003 to 2010 representing the 14th District in Farmingdale, said the public has been purposefully excluded from the process thus far. 

“I Googled ‘transparency’ and its definition is it’s easy to see or detect and the only thing that’s easy to see right now is that the public is being purposefully excluded from participating in this process,” Mejias said in an opening statement. “By either not being told what the law or facts are, being told to go to the wrong place at the right time or the right place at the wrong time.”

Mejias said the redistricting commission failed to properly provide meeting dates, times and agendas, relevant laws and statutes and a dedicated email address for public comments in a timely manner. 

On the commission’s website, the most recent agenda available is from Jan. 3, 2013. The Thursday night meeting was being live-streamed via a link made available on the county website.

In the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, there is no specific mention that the meeting was being held at North Hempstead Town Hall, located at 220 Plandome Road in Manhasset.

“Maybe that’s the difference between the 120 people we had in the last meeting and the number of people we had in the room here today,” Mejias continued. “Which is far less than 120 people that we had at our last so nothing has been changed.”

The five majority appointees include Peter Bee, John Reinhardt, Maureen Fitzgerald, New Hyde Park Mayor Christopher Devane and Eric Mallette. 

Minority appointees include Mejias, Jared Kasschau, Andrena Wyatt, James Magin and Michael Pernick. 

Redistricting Chairman Francis Moroney, who also served in the same capacity a decade ago after being appointed by then County Executive Ed Mangano, disputed Mejias’ claims. He said the county distributed legal notices to at least 450 locations and the outdated 2013 agenda is an error being worked on.

Moroney provided the public URL on the county’s public index notice, which includes the public notice for Thursday’s meeting including the date, time and email for public comments. 

Every 10 years, the county participates in the redistricting process to revise districts to ensure none contain a substantially disproportionate difference in the voter population compared to other districts.

As it stands, Nassau County currently has 19 Legislative Districts where Republicans hold a 11-8 majority over Democrats. 

Of the 19 districts, at least two are minority-majority districts, which was a point of concern to keep together.

Leslie Davis, president of the Westbury NAACP, asked the commission not to recommend any maps that would break up the Westbury and New Cassel. 

“We are concerned that consideration may be given because there was an attempt to do so 10 years ago,” Davis said. “Swift and negative reaction from the community stopped the option from being given further consideration and the proposal was withdrawn.”

James Oppenheimer held a picture of his district, Legislative District 14, and echoed the need for transparency for the public to study available data and to make it more compact.

“This is not a contiguous district and doesn’t have a commonality of interest,” Oppenheimer said, referencing the rules redistricting needs to follow. “You need to come up with something better than this.”

In 2014, Republicans held a 10-9 advantage when the current district maps were voted on party lines. At the time, Democrats had a 20,382 advantage among registered voters – 344,078 to 323,696.

The commission has a deadline of Nov. 10 to submit recommendations to the county legislature before they are considered and could be accepted, rejected or amended, among other things. 

Wayne Wink, a former North Hempstead clerk and county legislator, cautioned the commission of gerrymandering while reminding them he was one of two legislators nearly a decade ago to be redistricted into the same district. 

Wink said he hopes the commission follows the same process as the independent redistricting commission for North Hempstead, which recommended bipartisan maps ahead of time to the town board that the public was able to see. 

The major difference I see between North Hempstead’s commission and the one here is that Nort Hempstead’s submitted four maps they voted in a bipartisan manner for the town and public to consider before they were voted on,” Wink said. “I pray, although I don’t hold much hope you will follow that lead of North Hempstead.”

Manhasset resident Judy Esterquest, of Legislative District 9, asked the commission for a fair process while advocating for a map that brings together the communities of Manhasset, Port Washington and Roslyn in a better manner they are now.

“Our voices are fractured, please ensure our trust in this process by making redistricting a fair process,” Esterqeust said.

Manhasset is currently broken up into three legislative districts and both Roslyn and Hicksville are divided into four districts. 

The next hearing for Nassau County Temporary Districting Advisory Commission was slated for Sept. 14 at Glen Cove City Hall but has been canceled with a new date to be announced for either Sept. 18 or 20. 

Future hearings include Sept. 21 at Hempstead Town Hall, Sept. 28 at Long Beach City Hall and Oct. 3 at the Albany Avenue Community Center in North Massapequa. 

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