Suffolk legislators OK redrawn lines

From left: Suffolk County Legislator Rick Montano, with From left: Suffolk County Legislator Rick Montano, with State Senators Lee Zeldin, and Owen Johnson, speak about issues during a round table discussion in Central Islip. (Jan. 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

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In a vote that crossed party lines, the Suffolk County Legislature gave final approval Tuesday to maps redrawing lawmakers' district lines for the next decade.

The legislature voted 11-5 in favor of the new plan with two Republicans, Legis. Thomas F. Barraga of West Islip and Lynne C. Nowick of St. James, joining the majority, and Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Central Islip) voting against the measure.

Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) abstained after officials with the 350-member Wheatley Heights Civic Association assailed the new district lines for diluting their voting strength. Specifically, they criticized the removal of Election District 91, which will now be represented by Legis. Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon).

"I'm not opposed to the plan in its entirety," Gregory said. "But I, in good conscience, did not feel I could vote for it," given community concerns. He added that civic leaders are weighing a lawsuit.

The vote finalizing the plan came after Montano and Republicans had tried to table the proposal to permit revisions. Republicans also maintained the final plans unnecessarily split other communities such as Hauppauge, Eastport, Shoreham and Center Moriches.

Several lawmakers pressed for immediate passage because the law enacted earlier this year to govern the reapportionment process gave lawmakers a July 13 deadline, after which the county attorney would be directed to seek a court-appointed special master to draw lines.

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"We're working on a very strict timeline," said Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), part of the majority caucus.

Critics said it was unlikely a judge would interfere with legislative efforts to draw their own lines, especially since the next legislative election is a year away.

"There's no poison pill here," said Legis. John Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), minority leader.

The Democrats have defended their plan, maintaining no incumbent GOP legislators were thrown together into one district, something Republicans did to Presiding Officer William J. Lindsay (D-Holbrook) and former Legis. Ginny Fields (D-Oakdale) a decade ago.

The majority developed its own plan after a nonpartisan reapportionment commission failed to meet a deadline early this year after getting bogged down in a controversy over whether GOP appointees were nonpartisan.

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