Nearly two dozen Hempstead Town residents expressed fear of possible gerrymandering and a lack of transparency as the largest town in the country began its once-a-decade effort to redraw council district lines with a public hearing Tuesday night.
Many of the speakers addressing the town’s recently created temporary redistricting committee were from communities of color, where residents said there’s an opportunity to redraw the map to better reflect minority population growth over the past decade. Speakers accused the town of deliberately stretching district lines to divide the minority population when the current map was created in 2013.
“Give us a map that is fair and compact and allows us to elect our representatives and not have them choose us,” Mimi Pierre Johnson of Elmont told the three-member committee.
Some residents of Elmont, a nearly 90% minority community bordering Queens, questioned why they are in a council district that spreads as far east as Wantagh Parkway, when other members of their hamlet are split into a separate district.
Joyce Stowe, president of the Tudor Manor Civic Association in Elmont, said the current map has fractured the community.
“Having two representatives has not helped us to speak in a collective voice,” Stowe said. “I’m asking that you make it right this time.”
This is the first time the town has appointed a committee to hear from residents and assist the consulting firm hired to redraw the map of the town’s six council districts.
The committee is chaired by Gary Hudes, a Levittown Republican who previously represented the town’s Sixth District. He serves on the bipartisan committee, which was created by town board resolution Nov. 15, with fellow Republican Albert D’Agostino of Valley Stream and Democrat Dorothy Brazley of Hempstead. One resident questioned why the committee had just three representatives in a town of more than 790,000 residents.
Committee members did not speak at Tuesday’s public hearing, leaving that responsibility to town attorney John Maccarone, who briefly explained the process the town will follow before and after Skyline Consulting, a Schenectady-based political data firm, releases the updated map the town board will vote on prior to the 2023 election.
Several speakers at Tuesday’s hearing took exception to a town board rule that prohibits residents from providing testimony at multiple public hearings on the same topic, a policy Maccarone said the redistricting committee will follow. He said that would prevent anyone who addressed the board Tuesday from speaking at the next hearing, which is set for 10:30 a.m. Dec. 13 at Hempstead Town Hall, but they can be heard from again following the release of the proposed map.
Skyline also created the current district map, which Maccarone noted was declared legal following a challenge in federal court prior to the 2013 election. That action was filed by four town residents, including Pierre Johnson, who argued it diluted the voting power of minority residents.
This is the second time the lines have been redrawn since the town’s six council districts were enacted through a class action lawsuit arguing that an at-large voting system discriminated against minority community members. The town board is made up of five Republicans and Democrat Dorothy Goosby, who began the litigation to create the districts and has served the First District since its inception through a November 2000 special election.