Nassau County Presiding Officer Peter J. Schmitt talks about the...

Nassau County Presiding Officer Peter J. Schmitt talks about the proposed changes to Nassau's district maps. Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

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.

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