Republicans and Democrats on the Nassau County Legislature are wrangling over the speed of the once-in-a-decade redistricting of the 19-member county legislature, as the pace lags far behind that of reapportionment efforts in Suffolk County and New York City.
In Suffolk, two proposed maps — one drawn by majority Republicans, the other by Democrats — of the county legislature's 18 districts have been on the table since August, after a lawsuit prevented Democrats from adopting a map they created unilaterally before losing control of the legislature last November.
New York City's redistricting commission submitted a new map for boundaries of the 51 City Council districts to the council in July, and the draft is undergoing revisions.
Once the commission adopts a revised map, neither the council nor Mayor Eric Adams can change it.
Majority legislative Republicans in Nassau are resisting a push by Democratic lawmakers to amend the county charter to move up deadlines for creation of new maps.
Nassau's 11-member Temporary Districting Advisory Commission has held three public hearings since Aug. 31, and six more are scheduled, with the next one on Sept. 28 in Long Beach. There is no deadline for completing the hearing process.
Democrats on the legislature and the commission say final maps must be in place before February to meet candidate nomination deadlines for the new June primary schedule.
Before 2020, primaries were held in September, but the March deadline for of new legislative maps hasn't changed.
Dave L. Mejias, head of the Nassau redistricting panel's Democratic delegation, decried the pace of hearings, saying it won't leave enough time for more public hearings after the commission drafts proposed maps.
"This should have happened months ago," Mejias, an attorney and former Democratic Nassau County legislator, told Newsday.
"Starting so late has limited public input, which could affect the voters' confidence in the process," he said.
GOP leaders express confidence the public will have enough time to review, compare and comment on the commission's draft map and that an amendment to the county charter is unnecessary.
Republican-appointed commissioner Peter A. Bee, a Mineola attorney, says he "shares the Democrats' stated vision of collaboration."
But Bee called it "premature and unnecessary to set arbitrary deadlines for when maps will be available."
Commission Chairman Frank Moroney, an attorney and senior adviser to the GOP legislative majority, told Newsday more hearings after the panel has drafted its maps would delay the redistricting process.
The fight provides a window into Nassau's version of arguably the most partisan activity in government — the legislative redistricting that is necessary for local and state legislatures, and Congress, after each decennial U.S. Census.
The Nassau redistricting panel has five members appointed by the legislature's presiding officer, Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), five by Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and a nonvoting chairman appointed by the county executive, Republican Bruce Blakeman.
Their goal is to create 19 new legislative districts, each with about 73,500 people, and draft a map the county legislature will adopt, according to commissioners.
Nassau County has allocated $985,000 to the districting commission for mapping technology and to pay experts, legal fees and other expenses.
Moroney said the panel posts some 500 notices in government buildings, on social media and with local news media outlets before each meeting, with public hearings planned for every city and town in Nassau.
Sixty-two people have spoken publicly at meetings held so far, according to the Nassau County clerk's office.
Moroney told Newsday the process has been, "open, transparent and has encouraged public participation. We have repeatedly advised the people of the steps in the process, and that we intend to follow federal and state laws to the letter."
The public will have ample time to view the map and make recommendations once the commission creates a draft, Moroney said, and copies will be available publicly, including at the county's 57 public libraries.
"We really do want information from the people," he said.
Nonetheless, Democrats say Republicans have truncated the timeline between public release of draft maps and final adoption of new district lines, limiting public input and leaving less time to challenge the new map before its approval by the full county legislature.
“No matter which party is in power, redistricting is a highly partisan process and each side is looking to gain as much advantage as it can because this takes place only every 10 years,” Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, told Newsday.
“Now is the time for anyone who cares about who represents them, what communities theirs is going to be joined with and other issues to speak out because they won’t get a chance for another 10 years,” Levy said.
The commission map proposal must pass the county legislature's Rules Committee, and then the full legislature.
County legislators can accept, reject or amend the maps the redistricting commission submits.
The legislature, with a 12-7 GOP majority, also can decide to draw and adopt its own redistricting map.
Under the county charter, the county must adopt final district lines by March 7.
“Because we’re anticipating a gerrymandered map there will no doubt be litigation," Mejias said.
"However, the courts may not hear the case if it will cause chaos in an election cycle so if the maps are approved late enough in the game it would make it difficult if not impossible for communities to file lawsuits protesting the maps,” Mejias said.
Mary Studdert, spokeswoman for majority Republican legislators, said in a statement: "The county charter states the deadline to submit maps to the legislature is ‘no later than January 9, 2023.’ There is nothing to prevent the [redistricting commission] and legislature from acting earlier to accommodate the current calendar for circulating [candidate nominating] petitions. The charter does not need to be changed in order to do that."
William Biamonte, chief of staff for the minority Democrats, called GOP resistance to amending the county charter, "the latest example of how the integrity and success of the redistricting process continues to be jeopardized by a lack of transparency and cooperation."