Attorneys who contend that Islip Town’s voting system discriminates against Latinos highlighted examples of town officials failing to address Latino residents' concerns as they questioned town Supervisor Angie Carpenter on Thursday in federal court.
During three hours of cross-examination, Carpenter acknowledged times that town officials did not follow up with Latino residents in Brentwood who expressed concerns that they were being ignored or neglected.
Carpenter also spoke against town board members who were in office when 40,000 tons of contaminated debris were illegally dumped at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood in 2013 and 2014.
When an attorney asked Carpenter — who became supervisor a year after the dumping was discovered in 2014 — which town board members “took responsibility for it being done on their watch,” she responded, “Obviously, none of them.”
A group of four Brentwood residents and two community groups filed a lawsuit in June, alleging the current at-large system, in which candidates are elected by a townwide majority, prevents Latinos from having equal representation at Town Hall.
Plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction to create council districts with at least one ward of a Latino majority before a trial could potentially be held on permanently changing the voting system.
Plaintiffs say a lack of voting power has led to worse town services and allowed the illegal dumping to occur because no one was specifically responsible for governing the Brentwood area. They highlighted that no town board members live in the largely Latino areas of Brentwood, Central Islip and North Bay Shore.
Attorneys defending the town, town board and Suffolk Board of Elections have argued that election results are due to the town’s majority-Republican partisan makeup and that Latinos could sweep future at-large elections based on population projections.
Carpenter, who is running for re-election this year, took the witness stand for a second day of testimony. Answering questions from defense attorneys, she touted the town's multimillion-dollar efforts to restore Roberto Clemente Park, revitalize Central Islip’s downtown and build a community center in Brentwood. She said town services are distributed equitably.
During cross-examination, plaintiffs’ attorneys smiled and whispered “this is the crux of the case” when Carpenter spoke about driving to a section of Brentwood for the first time in her first month as supervisor. Several residents had spoken at a zoning change hearing against a proposal for a scrap metal processing facility near a residential area there. The area was in “terrible” and “deplorable” condition, and Carpenter said she called the public works commissioner to pave the roads there and install "no dumping" signs.
Carpenter said she was not aware of any town officials going to that area before and could not answer “who was paying attention to that road” other than herself.
“Simply by being present in that area, you were able to make something happen?” asked Fred Brewington, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “As supervisor, yes,” Carpenter responded.
Closing arguments are expected to be given Thursday at 10 a.m., following three weeks of hearings.