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Babylon Republicans want a ward council election system

Amityville trustee Nick LaLota stands atop the Long

Amityville trustee Nick LaLota stands atop the Long Island Rail Road tracks in Amtyville, Friday, May 13, 2016. LaLota is proposing a transit-oriented district to promote residential development in a mostly industrial area near the village's LIRR station. Credit: Steve Pfost

Babylon Town Republicans are organizing a petition to require a referendum on whether the at-large council system should change to one dividing the town into districts.

Petition organizers have until Sept. 9 to collect 1,906 signatures to put the measure on the ballot this November, when the presidential election is likely to encourage larger than normal voter turnout.

The effort highlights the maneuvering of two figures in town and county politics, Amityville Village trustee Nick LaLota, a Republican, and Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer, Suffolk County’s Democratic chairman.

LaLota, who is also a Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioner, spearheaded the drive in party committee meetings late last month, saying in an interview this week that the change would mean better representation for town residents.

Schaffer said the move would only create infighting, with board members fighting each other to bring town funds to their home districts.

Babylon’s Town Board, composed of four Democrats and an Independence Party member, passes most of its resolutions unanimously. Democrats have enjoyed near total control in Babylon for more than 20 years.

Townwide, Democrats outnumber Republicans 48,651 to 33,972, but the election of former Lindenhurst Deputy Mayor Kevin McCaffrey, a Republican, to the Suffolk Legislature’s 14th District in 2013 suggested there may be pockets of Republican strength.

“If you have unanimity, unanimous votes on every issue all the time, I don’t know if it serves the public well,” said LaLota, envisioning a district map drawn by the bipartisan Suffolk County Board of Elections.

That may never happen: The town board Wednesday scheduled a public hearing Sept. 13 for a law that would give the town board, rather than the Board of Elections, authority to draw the district lines, should the voters approve changing to the district system.

In an interview this week, Schaffer said that the board “is reflective of the demographics of the Town” and responds quickly and efficiently to residents’ concerns.

He also said that LaLota was motivated by personal animosity. LaLota denied that was the case.

In Amityville, Mayor James Wandell said he supported a district system that could lead to someone directly “accountable to the taxpayers of Amityville” on the town board.

Prominent town Republicans including McCaffrey, Anthony Pancella, Babylon Town Republican leader, and Shawn Cullinane, Lindenhurst clerk-treasurer, said yesterday they supported the petition effort.

At least one Republican leader opposes the effort, though. “I believe town government works better when every council member is accountable to every town resident,” said Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), whose district includes part of Babylon.

With David Schwartz

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