A bipartisan committee charged with drawing new boundaries for Suffolk County legislative districts has unanimously approved a new map that both Republican and Democratic leaders said was fair.
After five months of meetings — with the required public hearings canceled due to a shutdown of county computer systems after a Sept. 8 cyberattack — the Suffolk County Reapportionment Commission on Wednesday night voted 7-0 for a proposal to redraw the legislature's 18 districts.
John Bivona, a Democratic-appointed panel member, was absent.
The new map creates four districts in which ethnic minorities are the majority of residents, keeps the population of each legislative district roughly equal and does not force any incumbents to run against each another.
"I think this is probably a first, for a commission like this to be able to come to an agreement," Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer told Newsday.
"I believe they are very fair maps," Schaffer said. "I believe several of the districts will be very competitive."
Suffolk County Republican Committee chairman Jesse Garcia said commission members “came together in a bipartisan manner. This is a result of when you put transparency and bipartisanship ahead of pure unabated politics.”
In August, the panel was deadlocked over two competing maps, one favored by the committee’s Republican appointees and the other by Democrats.
With Democratic consultant Keith Davies and Republican legislative aide Brendan Sweeney representing each party caucus, the redistricting committee was able to hash out an agreement before a Sept. 30 deadline.
“I think we were both a little bit surprised how amenable each other were to actually getting something done and this wasn't just semantics,” Davies, who has run political campaigns for Suffolk Democrats, told Newsday.
Sweeney is an aide to Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst).
The legislative redistricting, which occurs after each decennial U.S. Census, will determine the competitiveness of legislative election contests throughout Suffolk.
The proposed map will go to the Republican-controlled county legislature for final approval. No date for consideration has been set.
Lawmakers must hold one public hearing before adoption of the redistricting plan.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone could sign or veto the map if the legislature approves it.
The legislature has 10 Republicans, one Conservative and seven Democrats.
In December, Bellone, a Democrat, vetoed maps adopted by the then-Democratic-controlled county legislature, saying he did not believe they would hold up under court challenge.
A Bellone spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
In April, the county legislature created the eight-member bipartisan commission to redraw district lines.
Four members were appointed by Republicans and four by Democrats.
Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, lauded the commission’s ability to reach a compromise.
“It's great that both sides got together and came up with a map that not only serves the parties, but seems to help create districts where minorities, who are often disenfranchised in processes like this, will have an almost guaranteed seat at the table,” Levy told Newsday on Thursday.
The 18 districts in the adopted map each have a population of about 85,000, with less than a 1% deviation from the 84,872 average.
State law requires district populations to be within 5% of one another to ensure legislators' votes carry roughly the same weight.
Garcia noted that unlike the original Democratic map, the adopted map does not force any incumbent Republicans to run against each other in the same district.
The map includes four minority-majority districts as required in an agreement between Bellone and McCaffrey.
Those districts are:
- District 9, which includes parts of Brentwood, Bay Shore and Islip hamlet.
- District 15, which includes parts of Wyandanch and North Amityville.
- District 16, which includes parts of Huntington Station, Elwood, Dix Hills and Brentwood.
- District 17, which includes parts of South Huntington, Deer Park and North Bay Shore.
A condition for Democrats to move forward in the negotiations was to keep the Three Village area, home to many Democratic voters, in one district.
Under an earlier Republican proposal, parts of Stony Brook would have been in one district, and other parts of the area would have been in another.