In the last seconds of a 4 1/2 hour hearing, just before the Temporary Districting Advisory Commission - a body appointed to come up with a plan to redistrict Nassau County's legislative districts - was to vote on a proposed plan, Democratic Commissioner Wayne Hall made a final plea to Republican Commissioner Henry Holley. "Do the right thing, Brother," as the couple of dozen of people still left in the Nassau County Legislative chamber at 10:30 pm applauded.
The plea was in vain.
Republican Chairman Francis X. Moroney disregarded the pleas from the Democratic commissioners as well as dozens of individuals who testified, that the vote be put off until Saturday, Jan. 5 (the mandated deadline for the Commission to finish its work), so that the commissioners could actually review the comments and perhaps tweak their proposed map. After all, wasn't that the point of the public giving testimony? How could the comments of the dozens of people who testified that night be taken into account if they voted that same evening?
Even more improbably, the Democrats hoped to actually be invited to sit down with their Republican counterparts and try to work out a compromise map that would achieve consensus, or at least, the 6-vote minimum for the Commission to actually present a map it recommended.
In the end, the Republicans could not be dared or shamed to "do the right thing" or threatened enough times with lawsuits into holding off the vote despite virtually unanimity among the "public" speakers that the map was a travesty, "an abomination," a blatant "power grab", gerrymandering designed to give permanent super majority to Republicans on the Legislature and strip citizens of their ability to have impact with their vote.
Instead, just moments after wrapping up the one and only public "hearing" on the proposed redistricting map on Thursday, Jan. 3 (the Democrats' map was hardly discussed and was not even visible to the audience), allowing for the separate "caucuses" to "consult" with each other (another sham), Moroney reconvened the commission of five Republicans and five Democrats, and called for a vote.
The vote was over in a moment - with the leader of the five Democratic commissioners, Bonnie Garone, quietly saying that as a protest for the "sham" that the commission had become, the Democrats would not vote at all.
The five Republicans predictably voted as a block, and since the Republican chairman Francis X. Moroney who presided and spoke for the Republicans could not vote, the Republican map failed to get the necessary sixth vote. That means that the Commission failed to adopt any map that would be presented to the County Legislature, which is now free to basically do what it wanted.
But that was the intention all along.
Inexplicably, Moroney did not even bother to call for a vote on the Democratic proposal.
The result was predictable - and calculated: now it will be up to the Nassau County Legislature - or rather, the Republican majority on the Legislature - to choose whatever map they wanted, even if it the map devised in secret more than a year ago by John Ciampoli, a Republican Party operative brought to the county by Ed Mangano as the County Attorney, but really to accomplish the Republican goal for redistricting to create a permanent, 12-7, Super Majority on the County Legislature.
What was most astonishing to sit in this hearing was that the Republican commissioners revealed they had no idea what their redistricting map represented - how it was created, what it changed. They sat alternating between blocks of wood - or the puppets they are - and disengaged, disinterested spectators, often reading material or chatting among themselves.
Even when Robert McDonald, a Democratic commissioner, asked the Republican commissioners directly to explain their plan, mum was the word. They left all the talking, all the posturing to Moroney, who had his talking points down.
Moroney justified the Republican map saying that the consulting company they hired (each side got $225,000 to spend), the consultant had but one caveat: to "disregard" incumbency.
Clearly, though, the caveat to "disregard incumbency" was done with a wink that meant "make sure Democrat incumbents were dislodged" - otherwise, as numerous people questioned, why would the lines be drawn, literally, around Democratic Legislator David Denenberg's house making for an odd hook in the district? Denenberg (D-LD 19) is extremely popular - winning reelections by 70% or more.
Apparently, the home of Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-LD 1) was also carved out of his district.
The lines are also drawn to pit popular Democrats against each other - Judi Bosworth (D-LD 10) and Wayne Wink (D-LD 11).
Thus, Kings Point, Saddle Rock and parts of the village of Great Neck (now represented by Bosworth) are lopped off from the Great Neck Peninsula where they are now part of the 10th district, and glommed onto the 11th, with Plandome and Munsey Park - except that that part of the "district" is physically separated by water. It would take probably 30 minutes to drive from that part of the district just to get to the rest of the district.
Similarly, the Five Towns are broken up three ways.
Taken together, the only two political strongholds for Jewish voters would be broken up; even though "Jews" are not considered a minority worthy of protection under the Voting Rights Act, it would mean that Jewish voters have little if any clout in local government.
The Republican plan displaces 680,000 residents who will find themselves in new districts, often cut off and reattached to "neighborhoods" who are very different in income level, in culture and background from their own communities.
All but two of some 50 speakers at this hearing strongly condemned the Republican proposal (a guy from Levittown was pleased that this map makes Levittown intact).
But it didn't matter. It was clear that all the testimony of the previous five or six public hearings - in which, without any map to actually comment upon, every single speaker pleaded to respect communities unified by school districts, by fire districts, by heritage and culture, all of it was disregarded.
Remember: in 2009, Republican Ed Mangano edged out Democrat Tom Suozzi as County Executive by a scant few hundred votes out of some 250,000 cast; the Republicans held a one-seat majority on the Legislature, and in 2011, almost lost that. It could have gone either way and the Democrats could have taken over the Legislature.
So the Republicans dug in their heels and showed they will do anything they need to in order to retain political control.
One speaker remarked that the party should win on the strength of their candidate, not by manipulation of the voting lines.
This is not unlike what is happening around the country - one million more Democratic votes were cast for House representatives than for Republicans, yet Republicans retain a substantial majority.
The strategy is to do this at every level of government.
Uprooting the districts in the way devised by the Republicans doesn't just mean that Democrats will be forced to run against each other, it means that Democrats will be largely unknown in their new constituencies. What is more, the geography proposed by Republicans - makes the districts unwieldy, hard to establish a presence at all, and probably will discourage candidates altogether. But that is the intention.
The fact that so many districts would have brand new faces gives an edge to whoever has the money to campaign. Clearly Republicans see their advantage in that.
What got very little attention was that the Democratic map that was proposed retains most of the communities and districts as they are.
But the role of the commission was always merely "advisory" - the Nassau County Legislature controls the process - it could accept the commission map proposed by the Republicans, the map proposed by the Democrats (yes, there is one), or other maps, such as one proposed (but not reviewed) by the League of Women Voters. It could also ditch them all and pick up the Ciampoli map that was so derided before.
That was always the strategy.
As for the hordes of people who protested the map? They don't matter. They never did. and if you have been sitting in on any of the Legislature's meetings, you will see that in all matters, "the people" don't matter.
You may think that this can be corrected at the ballot box. But that is the point. By gerrymandering districts, the Republicans don't even have to appear to care.
During the hearing, Moroney managed to convey reasonableness - not the open hostility and arrogance that Peter Schmitt wielded as Presiding Officer.
He managed to evade every question.
The charade and the likely actions that the Republican Legislature will take will likely result in a lawsuit - as activist Fred Brewington promised during a dramatic appearance.
But who pays?
The County Legislature has unlimited - taxpayer - funds to defend a lawsuit. Who pays for the challenge to this blatant gerrymandering? The Republicans hide behind a false premise that their plan creates a new majority-minority district - by destroying the two existing ones - but that should be the outcome considering the change in population in the County - it is no favor.
Moroney claimed that the Republican proposal meets the criteria of fulfilling state and local laws, of being "contiguous, compact" and causing minimal dislocations.
That is blatantly false - a lie.
These districts are not contiguous, nor compact, as attorney .... pointed out. The criteria would be to be able to draw a tight circle around the district and that is not possible.
Garone agreed with the many who decried the waste of $500,000 of county taxpayer money for this pathetic charade.
"If this commission doesn’t make at least one map to come together on a map, I agree this is a waste of time and money," Garone said. "Moroney as chair has abdicated his responsibility to get this commission to function as a commission and have a group of people to try to work together as a goal – these commissioners – not one of them would speak with us about how to draw a map or any redistricting subject despite every effort we made to reach out to them, that is complete abdication of responsibility and this commission hasn’t functioned as commission. I agree with every one of you, we have wasted time and money – this commission hasn’t functioned as a commission. I would like to hear from Republican commissioners why they would never speak with us. We shouldn’t have a Republican map, a Democratic map, there should be a coalition map. But that wasn’t this chairman’s goal."
There was no reply from any of the Republican commissioners.
Moroney also did little to contradict the charge of gerrymandering, falling back to outrageous charges that the Republicans were only doing what Democrats did in 2003 - except that is a false charge. The 2003 redistricting, managed by the Democratic Majority, only displaced 50,000 compared to 680,000 in this plan, and compact and contiguous districts for the most part. Moreover, it resulted in a continuation of a 10-9 split - reflecting the near parity between Democrats and Republicans in the county - not a 12-7 super majority as the Republican plan is intended to achieve.
The Republican map is blatantly and outrageously gerrymandered to produce a permanent 12-7 Super Majority by Republicans, so they will be free to pass bonds and budgets and basically freeze out Democrats in any decision-making to a greater extent than the Republican Majority does now.
That approach was apparent in the way Moroney exerted his chairmanship - refusing to permit collaboration between the Republican and Democratic commissioner s- keeping them separate. Apparently, the Republican commissioners were also ordered not to speak at all - evidenced by their refusal to speak up in answer to any question posed. (I regretted not being able to pose a question to a Republican Commissioner to ask the population of the District #10 now, and what it would be in their plan, and the rationale for moving Kings Point, Saddle Rock and parts of the village of Great Neck; I am quite sure none of the commissioners would be able to answer and probably had not even seen the map until that evening.)
This hearing should not have been considered official - it failed the seven-day public notice requirement of open meetings law, and came out during the Christmas-New Year's holidays. Local newspapers could not even publish in time. What is more, the map was impossible to decipher and lacked the block and street information that people would need to appreciate the changes. There was no attempt to show the population and demographics and how the districts were changed - otherwise, Great Neck people might have seen that the district required little change to meet the target population.
What is more, as one voting rights attorney pointed out, in order to preserve a community of interest, the federal government allowed up to 10 percent deviation from the target number.
People think that "representatives" follow the will of the people because they fear what happens at the ballot box. The way the republicans have gerrymandered the districts - just as the way federal Congressional districts - there is no fear of the people at all.
And that's why those commissioners - and the Republican legislators in the next go around - can sit through hours and hours of public condemnation and not care at all.
In the end, the republican commissioners could not be shamed or dared to hold off the vote and to make an attempt at a consensus map.
Bonnie Garone, the leader of the five Democratic commissioners, made a brave effort to describe the Democrats' efforts for a collaborative process, and when that failed, what went into the map they hastily put together - and amazingly, did not get published at the website until the day of the hearing. She gave some background for the rationale to their map, which was published only on December 31 - hastily put together after Garone was informed on Dec 24 by Moroney that the Republicans had prepared their own map.
Garone noted, "In 2011, Mangano and the Republicans drew a map, divided many minority districts, broke up communities, moved 500,000 people and generally outraged residents. Those mapmakers didn’t care what the public had to say, but fortunately the court of appeals did care and told Republicans they could not just push through a map and had to follow steps in county charter.
"So what did they do? they came back and made believe they followed the steps in the county charter. That's where are we today.
"Regrettably and embarrassingly, the chairman did not allow this commission to function as commission at all, even on the agenda.
"It was our belief that we would try to work together with Republican commissioners to at least make an effort to come up with agreed map that met the needs of population change, needs of county… that was impossible.
"We never received the Republicans' map - we saw it on the website, where a picture was posted - That’s what we have. We have a picture. We have not even been given the data underlying the map, so we can do the underlying analysis...
"When trying to discuss that map with Republican commissioners proved futile, we realized the only thing we could do was publish [our own] map – we posted map, population data to the website but somehow that was delayed until today, when the underlying data was issued – though it was provided before.
"What we tried to do – in contrast with Republicans – was a 'least changed' map – 7 districts account for population shifts to make the districts equal, and we took to heart the testimony in Long Beach and other places and joined in this proposed map Island Park and Harbor Isle with Long Beach.
"When that caused Long Beach district to be too big, we looked further and realized Atlantic Beach and East Atlantic Beach weren’t in the Long Beach school district- they go to school in Lawrence, just north – so we joined those two election districts with Lawrence.
"This is least changed map. We are open to suggestions. we invited Republicans to speak with us about the map."
None of the Republican commissioners would explain or describe the map, even when asked direct questions. That was left to Moroney, who attempted to explain the generation of the Republican map:
"Consultants were asked to do a couple of things- first and foremost, they were asked to take a look at data, determine if there were any districts that were not within the constitutional standards – were then asked to be blind to incumbency," he said as snickers went through the audience.
The map was based on a total population of 1,340,000, adjusted to add in state prison population, which increased the target number for each of the 19 voting districts from 71,500 to 71,573.
A deviation range from -4.78% and +4.68% meant that there could be up to 9.64% deviation.
The Republican map, he said, creates three minority-majority districts (there are two now): #1 , with a total of 86.8% blacks and Hispanics 18 years and older; #2 with 71.7%, and #3 with 56.3%.
"Because this was done with a blind eye to incumbency," Moroney said, there are four districts where there will be no incumbent, and four districts in which there are two incumbents who will have to challenge each other.
The largest change occurred in District 2, with a population of 81,574, 11,000 over the "optimum."
"When you give somebody something, somebody loses something," Moroney said. "Districting is not a process that goes community by community, it goes house by house.... There are lots of things in the maps – both maps – that don’t follow what people wanted in those hearings. That's just part and parcel in the nature of districting."
Democrats, including Commissioner Robert McDonald protested the number of communities broken up by the Republican plan - Great Neck peninsula, the Five Towns - to produce a crazy quilt of jagged edges and elongated sections, several of which are not even contiguous, but are separated by bodies of water, or flank other districts.
"Even my home district in Garden City," McDonald said, "To drive from my house to the tip of my new district, I’m driving through 3 districts to get there... I don’t know how my new district could be argued to be compact [one of the criteria for redistricting]."
Moroney's response, "I understand what you’re saying," brought laughter from the audience.
"This map was developed under a very fair process," Moroney said, as titters went through the audience, "all the legal standards. It would certainly be sustained in a court of law."
Efforts to get answers to who made the decision to break up Great Neck or the Five Towns went unanswered.
"Is it Mangano's map, or the commissioners'?" Garone said. "if it’s the commissioners, let’s hear from commissioners."
Instead, Moroney explained, "The most important point – if you set up straw man and don’t succeed to abide by that straw man in each instance, you create a conflict, everybody can’t get everything they want, school districts are not the basis of census geography.
Democratic Commissioner Steven Markowitz said, "This are the kind of things as commissioners we should be discussing – the basis for dividing up – I want to hear from my fellow commissioners how they feel."
Later in the meeting, after Moroney defended his plan's demarcating of minority-majority districts, and said that this process followed much the same as in 2003 when Democrats controlled it, Democratic Commissioner David Mejias stated, "Then, Democrats and Republicans came together. The Democratic majority chose to change the map to accommodate mayors and Republicans. They took in public comment, and it was a collaborative process unlike what we see here today.
"With 680,000 people in new districts [under the Republican map] it will be difficult for people to be engaged. It is hard enough to get to know one legislator. What our job should be is to make sure the people of Nassau County continue to be empowered – People who have these unities of interest continue. To change 680,000 people on the map and put together with people with totally different interests means that some don’t want you to be engaged and participate. We should take example of North Hempstead [and its redistricting process] and do that for Nassau County."
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
© 2013 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. 'Like' us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.