Brewing battle in Nassau over redistricting pace
Republicans and Democrats in the Nassau County Legislature are vying for the pace of the once-a-decade redistricting of the 19-member county legislature, as the process lags far behind the pace in Suffolk County and New York.
In Suffolk, two maps offered — one driven by majority Republicans, the other by Democrats – of the county’s 18 legislature districts have been on the table since August, after a lawsuit stopped Democrats from passing a map they unilaterally created before losing control of the legislature last November.
The New York City Redistricting Commission submitted a new boundary map of the City Council’s 51 districts to the council in July, and the draft is under review.
Once the commission adopts a revised map, neither the council nor Mayor Eric Adams can change it.
Majority Legislative Republicans in Nassau are resisting pressure from Democratic lawmakers to amend the county charter to push back deadlines for creating new maps.
Nassau’s 11-member Temporary District Advisory Board has held three public hearings since Aug. 31, with six more scheduled, the next on Sept. 28 in Long Beach. There is no deadline to complete the hearing process.
Democrats in the Legislature and Committee say final maps must be in place by February to meet candidate nomination deadlines for the new June primary schedule.
Prior to 2020, primaries were held in September, but the March deadline for new legislative cards has not changed.
Dave L. Mejias, head of the Democratic delegation to the Nassau redistricting committee, decried the pace of the hearings, saying he won’t allow enough time for more public hearings after the commission drafts the proposed maps.
“This should have happened months ago,” Mejias, a lawyer and former Nassau County Democratic lawmaker, told Newsday.
“Starting so late has limited public participation, which could affect voter confidence in the process,” he said.
GOP leaders express confidence that the public will have ample time to review, compare, and comment on the commission’s draft map and that an amendment to the county charter is not required.
Republican-appointed commissioner Peter A. Bee, a Mineola attorney, says he “shares the Democrats’ stated vision of working together.”
But Bee called it “premature and unnecessary to set arbitrary deadlines for map availability”.
Commission Chairman Frank Moroney, a lawyer and senior adviser to the GOP legislative majority, told Newsday that more hearings after the panel drafts its maps would delay the redistricting process.
The fight opens a window into Nassau’s version of arguably the most partisan activity in government — the legislative redistricting that is necessary for local and state legislatures, and Congress, after every decennial U.S. census.
Nassau’s redistricting committee has five members appointed by Speaker of the Legislature Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), five by Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and a non-voting chairman appointed by County Executive Republican Bruce Blakeman.
Their goal is to create 19 new legislative districts, each with about 73,500 people, and draft a map for the county legislature to adopt, the commissioners said.
Nassau County allocated $985,000 to the district commission for mapping technology and to pay for experts, legal fees and other expenses.
Moroney said the panel posts some 500 notices in government buildings, on social media and to local media before each meeting, with public hearings scheduled in every city and town in Nassau.
Sixty-two people have spoken publicly at meetings held so far, according to the Nassau County Clerk’s Office.
Moroney told Newsday that the process was “open, transparent and encouraged public participation. We have repeatedly informed people of the steps of the process and that we intend to follow federal laws to the letter and states”.
The public will have ample time to view the map and make recommendations once the commission creates a draft, Moroney said, and copies will be publicly available, including at all 57 county public libraries.
“We really want information from people,” he said.
Still, Democrats say Republicans truncated the time between public release of draft maps and final adoption of new district lines, limiting public input and allowing less time to challenge the new map before it was approved by the entire county legislature.
“It doesn’t matter which party is in power, redistricting is a highly partisan process and each side is looking to get the most benefit possible because it only happens every 10 years,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center. for Suburban Studies. at Hofstra University, Newsday said.
“Now is the time for everyone who cares about who represents them, what communities they will join and other issues to speak up, because they won’t have a chance for another 10 years,” Levy said.
The commission’s map proposal must pass the rules committee of the county legislature and then the full legislature.
County lawmakers can accept, reject, or modify maps submitted by the redistricting commission.
The legislature, with a 12-7 majority in the GOP, can also decide to draw and pass its own redistricting map.
Under the county charter, the county must adopt the final district lines by March 7.
“Because we are planning a gerrymandered card, there will undoubtedly be some litigation,” Mejias said.
“However, the courts may not hear the case if it causes chaos in an election cycle, so if the cards are approved late enough in the game, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for communities to sue for protest the cards,” Mejias said. .
Mary Studdert, spokeswoman for the majority Republican lawmakers, said in a statement, “The county charter states that the deadline for submitting maps to the legislature is ‘no later than January 9, 2023.’ Nothing prevents the [redistricting commission] and the legislature to act sooner to accommodate the current circulation schedule [candidate nominating] petitions. The charter does not need to be changed to do this.”
William Biamonte, chief of staff for the minority Democrats, called the GOP’s resistance to changing the county’s charter “the latest example of how the integrity and success of the redistricting process continues to be undermined by a lack of transparency and cooperation”.