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Judge blocks Nassau redistricting plan
May 12, 2011 by CELESTE HADRICK / email@example.com
A State Supreme Court justice in Mineola on Thursday temporarily blocked the Republican-controlled Nassau legislature from adopting a new redistricting plan for this year's elections.
The legislature had scheduled a vote on Monday.
Justice Steven Jaeger granted county Democrats' request for a temporary restraining order and directed both sides return to court May 26 to show why the process followed by Republicans in drawing the new lines was not "arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion and violates the constitutional precepts governing redistricting."
"I think it's a major victory," said County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs. "It shows that a judge believes at least on the face of it that moving ahead would be damaging, that there is reason to believe the action is in violation of the law and in violation of the charter. This was an obvious power grab on the part of . . . the Republicans."
He added that the order should kill the map for this year no matter what happens in court on May 26 because there won't be enough time for the election board to draw up new election districts by the time candidate nominating petitions go out June 7.
The county's eight Democratic legislators sued the 11 Republican legislators on Tuesday after Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) scheduled a final vote on the new lines by the full legislature.
Democrats contend the new lines, drawn by County Attorney John Ciampoli in less than 25 days after the new U.S. Census was released April 1, violated the county charter, which calls for a long, deliberative process including the appointment of a bipartisan redistricting commission.
Attorney Steven Schlesinger, representing the Democrats, argued in favor of the restraining order this morning, contending the methods used by Ciampoli "don't meet the statutory prerequisites for adopting the plan.".
But Ciampoli argued that a judge cannot prevent elected legislators from voting and that the Democrats' request for a temporary restraining order was premature.
Except for President Abraham Lincoln arresting Maryland state representatives to stop them from voting to secede from the union before the Civil War, Ciampoli said there is no precedent allowing the judicial branch of government to pre-empt a vote by the legislative branch.
"Granting a temporary restraining order will set a precedent for anyone unhappy with the legislature to freeze the process," Ciampoli argued.
Chris Ostuni, counsel to legislative Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt, added the local law creating the new map "should not be taken out of the hands of legislators before they have an opportunity to consider it."
After Jaeger issued his order, Schlesinger said, "He didn't stop them from voting on it. He stopped them from adopting it. They can vote but they can't actually implement it."
Ciampoli could not be reached for comment. A Schmitt spokesman said, "We are reviewing the judge's opinion."
Ciampoli contends current districts, particularly a minority district that includes Hempstead Village, have grown too large over the past 10 years and violate the principal of one person -one vote.
Residents criticize Nassau GOP's legislative-redistricting plan
(05/09/11) MINEOLA - Nassau County Democrats are calling the Republican's proposed legislative-redistricting plan a power grab and many residents who attended a public hearing say they agree.
Critics claim the plan is really aimed at strengthening the Republicans by breaking up areas that traditionally vote Democratic.
Others who oppose the plan say it attempts to dilute minority voting power by breaking up the Village of Hempstead into three separate districts.
Republicans say their plan is just a temporary fix in response to new census figures and that a more comprehensive redistricting plan will be developed over the next couple of years.
They say they'll put the redistricting plan up for a vote next Monday. Democrats, however, say they want it tabled
Dems attack redistricting plan in Nassau
May 9, 2011 by SID CASSESE / firstname.lastname@example.org
A Republican proposal for early redistricting of the lines of the Nassau County Legislature was pilloried Monday by a primarily Democratic audience at a public hearing at the legislature.
"Our beloved Elmont is now sliced up like pizza, limiting its potential as a unified voting commuunity," said Joyce Stowe of the Tudor Manor Civic Association, bound by Greenway Boulevard, Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road. That area will become part of a new "minority" district along the Queens border under the GOP proposal.
"As it [the proposal] stands right now, our collective voting strength is degraded," said Stowe. "[It is] touted as a minority district, but based on a statistical analysis ... it is not so. And we will not be fooled by this outrage."
But legislative Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) told the overflow crowd that the proposed law "must recognize the growth of minority populations on the western portion of Nassau County."
Democrats vow to challenge the redistricting in court if it passes as written. The legislature is expected to vote on the GOP proposal on May 16.
Schmitt, though, said the county charter mandates that the redistricting occur "within six months of the [census] enumeration of the inhabitants of Nassau County."
"This body does not have the discretion to ignore [charter] provisions," Schmitt said.
Schmitt said charter provisions for a bi-partisan commission to study and recommend the redistricting, and then for the legislature to approve a final plan. will be done after a new legislature is elcted.
If approved May 16, the Republican plan would be in effect before the November elections for county legislature, and before party nominating conventions this month.
Hempstead Mayor Wayne Hall " challenged the proposed redistricing he said would place his village into three instead of its now two districts. That third would go into the 8th District, with Garden City, Garden City South, Stewart Manor, West Hempstead Franklin Square, Old Westbury and parts of East Meadow.
"This is a dilution of the minority vote," he said. "I'll see you in court."
At about 3:30 a near fight broke out when Regis Lawrence Thompson of Hempstead told Schmitt he had taken his sheet off, insinuating he is a Ku Klux Klanner.
Schmitt took umbrage at that and said "if you're the best the New Democratic Club has to offer . . ." At that point, Dennis Jones and Ramel Smith, both club members, joined Thompson at the podium, shouting that they supported her.
And angry Fran Becker, (R-Lynbrook), said something that caused several others to jump from their seats shouting.
Three Nassau County police officers on duty in the building soon arrived at the podium and escorted Thompson, Jones and Smith and their supporters into the hall. Shortly afterwards, they all returned to the chambers.
Committee passes Nassau redistricting plan
May 2, 2011 by SID CASSESE / email@example.com
A Nassau legislative committee Monday night passed a Republican-sponsored redistricting plan that has sparked an outpouring of opposition from Democrats.
The new district lines were approved in the GOP-controlled Rules Committee by a 4-3 vote. A public hearing on the redistricting is set for May 9 and a vote by the full legislature, dominated 11-8 by the Republicans, is expected on May 16.
Dennis Jones, a retired New York City police officer and second vice president of the New Hempstead Democratic Club, said the plan "will have a negative effect on minority community, especially in Hempstead."
Legis. John Ciotti (R-North Valley Stream) disagreed. He said the redistricting would actually give minorities a chance "at one more seat at the table."
Stephen Anchin of North Woodmere said he opposed the redistricting proposal because it breaks up the Five Towns communities.
"The Five Towns is not a miscellaneous assortment of unrelated hamlets and villages," he said.
Democrats, who are expected to launch a court challenge, contend that the new map is a Republican power grab.
But County Attorney John Ciampoli said the new lines eliminate improper population deviations between districts and respect town boundaries.
New Nassau district map drawn at top speed
April 30, 2011 by CELESTE HADRICK / firstname.lastname@example.org
Using new software and a consultant, Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli was able to draw a new map for the county legislature in less than 25 days -- a process that took nearly a year when the county last reapportioned its 19 legislative districts a decade ago.
Ciampoli, a former elections attorney for the Republican State Senate, said last week that he had been studying the results of the new census, released April 1, when Presiding Officer Peter J. Schmitt (R-Massapequa) asked him on April 19 to draw a new map that would address population shifts and improve minority representation. Ciampoli submitted the new lines Monday; they will be considered by the legislature's Rules Committee Monday. Approval by the Republican-controlled legislature is expected May 16.
The county purchased the redistricting software Maptitude for less than $20,000, Ciampoli said. He also paid Debra A. Levine, the Republican co-executive director of the state's Reapportionment Task force, $20,000 as a consultant, he said. Contracts for less than $25,000 do not require legislative review.
Although Levine is a state employee, Ciampoli said he cleared her work for Nassau through the state legislative Ethics Commission. Levine did not return a call for comment and the ethics commission said its opinions are confidential.
Democrats, who are expected to launch a court challenge, contend that the new map, which puts four Democratic legislators into two districts, is a Republican power grab. They also say the new lines illegally dilute the minority vote by grouping some minority communities that are now in the 3rd District, represented by Republican John Ciotti of North Valley Stream, into a new district with a lower percentage of minority voters.
Ciampoli says the new minority district, with no incumbent, empowers minority voters. He said the new lines eliminate improper population deviations between districts and respect town boundaries.
But Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), presiding officer during the last reapportionment in 2002-03, called Ciampoli's map "fast food" compared to the "sit-down dinner" that redistricting should be. Before lines were drawn the last time, the legislature appointed a bipartisan redistricting commission, sent out more than 4,250 public notices and held six public hearings and a public work session between May and December 2002, she said. A new map was adopted by the then-Democratic controlled legislature on Feb. 24, 2003.
County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said Ciampoli's lines move 570,000 people from one district to another. Notifying them by mail would cost $1 million, he predicted.
"What I hear from Jay Jacobs is a partisan response," Ciampoli said. "What he can't seem to accept is that we have a Republican majority in the legislature that has created a historic opportunity for the minority community in western Nassau. What does Jay Jacobs have against these people?"
Jacobs said, "The fact that he refers to them as 'these people' is a solid indication of his thinking. . . . He needs to understand how democracy works and the concept of free and fair elections that he is trying to subvert by single-handedly producing this most partisan map at the wrong time."
GOP, Dems tussle over Nassau district maps
April 26, 2011 by CELESTE HADRICK / email@example.com
Nassau Republicans Tuesday proposed a new map for the 19 county legislative districts that puts four incumbent Democrats into two districts and breaks up the Five Towns to create what they say is a "new" minority district -- though it has fewer minority voters than its current counterpart.
Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) said the proposed map is fair, provides minorities with better representation and respects town and community lines better than current district boundaries.
"The new maps correct the inequity in the representation of legislative districts in Nassau County," Schmitt said.
But Democrats, who promise a court challenge, called the new map a Republican power grab. "This is the most offensive, partisan map you could possibly have drawn," said Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs.
The new lines put incumbent Democrats David Denenberg of Merrick and Joseph Scannell of Baldwin into the same South Shore district. They also put Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) and Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove) in a new 16th District -- though Yatauro says she will not seek re-election.
Both Schmitt and County Attorney John Ciampoli claim the new map provides better minority representation, citing a "new" minority district along the Queens border. That new district combines minority neighborhoods from the 3rd District, now represented by Legis. John Ciotti (R-North Valley Stream), merging them with the Five Town communities of Woodmere, Inwood and a portion of Cedarhurst.
However, the U.S. census shows the existing 3rd District has a larger minority population -- at 62 percent -- than the "new" minority district's 56 percent.
Redistricting law calls for new districts to generally be of equal population, compact, contiguous and to respect political subdivision lines and "communities of interest." The new districts must not dilute the strength of minority voters.
Asked if the new district dilutes minority votes, Schmitt and Ciampoli said only that there is no incumbent to "dominate" an election. "With no advantages of incumbency, it creates a wide-open district that in all probability will elect a minority," Schmitt said.
But Democratic chief Jacobs said minority districts are based on voters' race and ethnic background, not on the race of their elected representatives.
Despite language in the county charter calling for public hearings and a bipartisan commission before redistricting, Democrats complain that neither they nor the public had any input into the new lines. However, Schmitt said his counsel and Ciampoli interpret the charter as requiring the legislature to adopt new districts within six months of the release of the U.S. census. "I am told I am constitutionally required and legally bound to take these steps now," Schmitt said.
He said the new map was drawn by Ciampoli, not party bosses. Residents can give their opinion at a public hearing May 9, he said, predicting a May 16 legislative vote.
To see the old and new maps:
Nassau redistricting plan date moved up
Originally published: April 21, 2011 10:12 PM
Updated: April 21, 2011 10:50 PM
By CELESTE HADRICK firstname.lastname@example.org
As county Republicans and Democrats accused each other of trying to disenfranchise voters, Nassau's presiding officer, Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), Thursday moved up the date for approval for a new redistricting plan to May 16 -- even though a plan has yet to be released.
A new map of boundaries for the 19 legislative districts will be submitted before the end of this month, a Schmitt aide said.
Schmitt surprised Democrats a week ago by saying his counsel had interpreted the county charter as requiring redistricting to take place this year as a way to incorporate new U.S. census results -- a year earlier than expected. After County Attorney John Ciampoli agreed, Schmitt on Monday said he was having new lines drawn and scheduled a vote May 23.
Minority Leader Diane Yatauro objected, saying in a letter to Schmitt Wednesday that the charter requires "a lengthy, well-thought-out public process." To do that in three weeks "disenfranchises and cheats the Nassau County residents," she wrote.
"To preserve the status quo will result in the disenfranchisement of minority voters," Schmitt responded in a letter. Republicans have said the census shows the 2nd District, which includes minority communities in Westbury, Hempstead and New Cassel, is too large compared with other districts. They say that results in residents being underrepresented.
Lawmakers have a "statutory duty" to redistrict before candidates begin circulating nominating petitions on June 7, Schmitt wrote.
But former Suffolk Chief Deputy County Executive Paul Sabatino, now a private lawyer, said Schmitt is reading only one of three sections of the charter. "It's very clear when you read all three sections, there is no way you can adopt the reapportionment plan in the same year you get the census data and have it be effective for that election cycle."
Schmitt aide Ed Ward countered that Westchester and Erie counties are also redistricting for the November elections. A Westchester spokesman confirmed that a new tentative map for its legislators was released Thursday. Erie County officials could not be reached.