Ford's vote stymies Republicans' redistricting plan

Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford. (June 24, 2011) Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford. (June 24, 2011) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Sometimes, all it takes is one.

On Monday, it was Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford, a Long Beach Democrat who caucuses with Republicans.

At some point during a packed hearing, she told Republicans that she wasn't going along with the plan.

The plan was to have a public hearing on a proposal to remake the county's legislative districts on the same day lawmakers were supposed to vote.

Because Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the legislature, they had the juice, along with every reason to believe that their map would pass because Ford was supposed to vote with them.

Around 8 p.m., however, Republicans began saying privately that Ford had changed her mind. It would be about an hour or so later that the legislator herself would publicly telegraph that Republicans were one vote short.

"When we go down to Inwood and we look at the way some of the districts have been drawn . . . I don't want to get into a whole big brouhaha right now, but I think I'll just leave it that you have given us a lot to consider and a lot to think about," Ford said in an exchange with civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington.

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It may have appeared as though democracy won -- that the dozens of people who spoke out against the plan on Monday and early Tuesday and during a series of other hearings had gotten their message through.

In the world of legislative redistricting, the majority party rules. And in Nassau, where Democrats ran the show a decade ago, it is the Republicans' turn this time around.

No matter how much anyone protests, the goal is to protect the political interests of the party in power -- within the confines of federal laws mandating fair and equal voting districts.

The Republican-drawn map up for discussion Monday afternoon into Tuesday morning was especially bold -- with districts drawn to potentially give Republicans the two-thirds supermajority voters have denied both parties since 1999. With a supermajority, Republicans would have no need for Democrats, who themselves played hardball in attempting to influence the Republican map by refusing to provide necessary votes for county borrowing.

The fight over redistricting in Nassau began in 2011 and has only gotten uglier since, with the battle too often stymieing the body's ability to govern effectively on a variety of issues.

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But there are a few different wrinkles this time around. For one, a coalition that pushed for an impartial redistricting process includes good-government organizations along with representatives of some of the fastest-growing immigrant communities in Nassau.

The coalition may not -- and likely will not -- get all they want when the legislature reconvenes next week to vote on a revised legislative map. But with the ongoing demographic shift in Nassau, the groups will wield considerably more power in redistricting a decade from now.

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