Babylon Republicans, trying to force a townwide vote on whether the town board should change from one that serves at-large to by-district, submitted a petition Friday with approximately 2,500 signatures to the town clerk’s office.
Organizers needed to collect 1,906 signatures of registered town voters, or 5 percent of the last gubernatorial election turnout, to put the measure on the ballot Nov. 8.
Proponents of the drive said the district or ward system, which would divide the town into four districts of roughly equal population, each with its own town board representative, would bring better services to residents and more accountability from elected officials.
Most Long Island towns elect their board members in an at-large system. Hempstead, North Hempstead and Brookhaven are exceptions. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal in 1999 for council districts in Babylon Town.
A district drawn to include Republican-leaning neighborhoods south of Montauk Highway could bring a Republican to the town board for the first time since Fran Brown in the early 2000s.
“Babylon Republicans have been nearly irrelevant in town government for decades, and of course the Republican Party machine was involved in gathering these signatures,” said Nick LaLota, a petition organizer who is also an Amityville Village trustee and Republican Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioner. “Everybody, regardless of party affiliation, will benefit from more representation and greater dialogue at town meetings.”
The town’s Democratic leaders said a district system would lead to worse government because it would set districts against each other in a squabble for limited town resources, cutting the ties between residents and officials who no longer represent them.
They have sought to portray the drive as a vanity project for LaLota, whose dealings with town supervisor and Suffolk County Democratic leader Rich Schaffer have not always been congenial.
“Nick lives in Nick’s world,” Schaffer said Friday. “He’s a divider, not a uniter, and this is the only way he feels he can gain power.”
Schaffer said the current consensus-based system has served Babylon Town residents well and added that he has begun forming a group to fight for the current council system.