Lawmakers postpone vote on Nassau redistricting map

Pam Dempsey and Lori Stehl, holding signs from

Pam Dempsey and Lori Stehl, holding signs from left, in the legislative chamber in Mineola for the vote to redraw legislative districts in Nassau County. (Feb. 25, 2013) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

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Nassau legislators postponed voting on a hotly disputed redistricting map early Tuesday morning, following a meeting that stretched past midnight and included nearly seven hours of public testimony.

Just before 1 a.m., Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) called for a recess to the marathon meeting that had started at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

"The public has asked to be heard and we should have time to digest and assess the testimony," Gonsalves said at the meeting. She did not say when the legislature will reconvene.

The legislature had been scheduled to vote on a Republican-endorsed redistricting map that puts four Democratic incumbents into two districts and cuts up the Roslyn and Five Towns communities into multiple legislative districts.

Minority and Hispanic residents said their communities were being divided by the new lines for the 19 districts of the Nassau County Legislature, diluting their voting power. Opponents called for more hearings before the GOP-dominated legislature could approve the map.

"There should be debates on this map, with maybe three people on each side, before March 5 [the deadline for the new lines]," said David Stonehill of Merrick. "Your map is headed for the judicial system."

But Frank Moroney, a top aide to the GOP majority and former chairman of the advisory board on redistricting, said the map meets all "constitutional, Voting Rights Act and other legal standards of traditional districting."

More than 130 people had signed up to speak at the meeting; many had left by the time the redistricting issue was called three hours later, after all other business was completed.

The map would be used in November when all 19 legislative seats are up for election.

Democrats complain that the Five Towns has been carved into four legislative districts, thus dividing its largely Jewish communities. The plan also would place six incumbents -- four Democrats and two Republicans -- into three districts.

Legis. Robert Troiano (D-Westbury) said the changes for his 2nd District violate the federal Voting Rights Act by "diluting their voting influence."

League of Women Voters of Nassau County co-president Nancy Rosenthal asked, "Why do the Republicans appear unwilling to engage in a public discussion of their map? This makes it appear to many that the real reason for the draconian changes made in these districts was to 'pack' some of the districts with as many registered members of the opposition as possible." Rosenthal added that the league is nonpartisan and would take the same stance if it were a Democratic map.

The map merges the districts of Democrats David Denenberg of Merrick and Joseph Scannell into a redrawn 5th District in Baldwin. Denenberg's current 19th District would have no incumbent.

Delia DeRiggi-Whitton's 18th District in Glen Cove would merge into fellow Democrat Wayne Wink's 11th District in Roslyn. The 18th District would be vacant.

Two Republican lawmakers, Michael Venditto of Massapequa and Joseph Belesi of Farmingdale, also are in the same newly drawn southeastern Nassau district. Belesi, who has been absent with health problems in the past, is not expected to run for re-election, though he has not announced his plans.

In other action, the legislature approved waivers of fees associated with residential and business rebuilding related to superstorm Sandy, as requested by County Executive Edward Mangano.

The fees to be waived are: Sewer disconnect and reconnect fees from the Department of Public Works that are required for demolishing and rebuilding; pre-demolition inspection fees from the Department of Health, and index recording fees at the County Clerks office for SBA loans added to one's mortgage. The law would also reimburse those who have already paid the fee for such rebuilding.

The fine for defrauding the county with bogus applications, however, jumps from $1,000 to $5,000.

With Celeste Hadrick

and Laura Figueroa

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