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Nassau bill would rename county building after Shirley Chisholm

A proposed bill in the Nassau Legislature would

A proposed bill in the Nassau Legislature would rename a county building after Shirley Chisholm, a seven-term Democratic House member from Brooklyn and the first Black woman ever elected to Congress. Credit: AP/Jim Wells

A Nassau lawmaker has introduced legislation to rename a county building in Mineola that houses the Board of Elections after Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to win a seat in Congress.

If the bill is approved by the Nassau Legislature's Republican majority, the building at 240 Old Country Road — also home to the county's comptroller and clerk offices as well as its consumer affairs department — would be the first Nassau building to be named for an African American.

Legis. Josh Lafazan, an independent from Woodbury who caucuses with Democrats, said he felt compelled to take action amid the national conversation about race, equal rights and how government names its buildings and monuments. 

Lafazan, 26, the youngest lawmaker to ever serve in Nassau politics, said he considers Chisholm, who died in 2005, a personal hero for her commitment to fighting for racial and social justice.

"Shirley Chisholm's name on this building tells all of our residents that you belong here," he said. "In an incredibly diverse county we are telling our residents from all corners of Nassau that you belong right here."

A plaque outside the Mineola building would describe Chisholm's historical significance and the reasoning behind the designation.

Nassau Democrats, who have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, along with minority leaders and activists, plan to rally in support of the measure Thursday night.

In 1968, Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to the House of Representatives, from New York's 12th District in Brooklyn. She served seven terms and in 1972 became the first African American from a major political party to seek the presidential nomination.

Chisolm's story of facing down oppression and racism is particularly relevant during a time of social unrest following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, said the Rev. Sedgwick Easley of the Union Baptist Church of Hempstead.

"This is not necessarily about African American history," Easley said. "This is about American history. This is part of the American story; the American legacy of how we had to face oppression and yet rise above."

Chris Boyle, a spokesman for the Nassau Legislature's GOP majority, said while Chisolm was a groundbreaking official who deserves recognition, "if we are going to be naming buildings, we may first want to recognize the legacy of the many African-American leaders and trailblazers from Nassau who made a difference in our county and world, from the Tuskegee Airmen to leaders in civil rights, government and every other field."

Democratic County Executive Laura Curran, who supports the bill, said Chisholm "was a bold pioneer whose moral strength and perseverance serve as an inspiration for all people striving for change." 

The bill could come up for a vote in September.

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