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Suffolk lawmakers approve redistricting plan on party-line vote

The Suffolk County Legislature voted on party lines Friday to approve a Democratic redistricting plan setting legislative lines for the next decade — just 14 hours before Republicans take control of the chamber.

The 10-8 vote came amid contentious debate by lawmakers about the legality of the plan and three days after State Appellate Division Associate Justice Lara Genovesi allowed the legislature to move forward with the proposal, overruling, for a third time, a county court order blocking action on new legislative maps.

Despite Friday's vote, the fate of the plan remains uncertain. The court battle is expected to continue in the new year, and County Executive Steve Bellone, whose office did not respond to requests for comment, has not said whether he will sign the legislation.

Outgoing Presiding Officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue), who proposed the redistricting plan and whose term ends at midnight Friday, said the maps are "fair" and reflect the county's changing demographic shifts.

"Districts need to be compact. They need to keep communities of likeness together," Calarco said. "We need to address the minority population growth where it has occurred. … We have really done our best to draw lines that comport with the law."

Calarco’s proposal doubles the number of districts in which Black and Latino residents are the majority and keeps similar communities together. It also creates nine largely GOP and nine largely Democratic districts while squeezing four Republican legislators into two districts. Two of those legislators are current and two will be sworn in on Jan. 3.

Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), who filed suit to block the plan this month, arguing it violates the county charter, said the plan is "wrong" and reflects political opportunism by Democrats.

McCaffrey said he appointed members to a bipartisan commission that would have proposed new district lines, but outgoing Majority Leader Sue Berland (D-Dix Hills) "intentionally" failed to make her selections, allowing Democrats to draw their own plans.

"The majority is cherry-picking what parts of the county charter it wishes to follow," said McCaffrey, who is expected to become presiding officer next week.

In an interview, Berland said she recommended one name to the commission in September and was vetting others when the Nov. 10 deadline to appoint members expired. "It is not easy to find the right people to sit on this," said Berland, who contends McCaffrey failed to submit "qualified" members to the commission by the deadline.

Calarco defended the process, arguing that lawmakers were forced to act because of the upcoming Feb. 1 deadline for the commission to submit its recommendations.

"We have 31 days for a commission to do its work if they were constituted today," he said. "That's simply not enough time. … I'm not going to say why one member did or did not make their appointments. The fact of the matter is they weren't made. Time got tight and we needed to act."

Control will switch to Republicans on Jan. 1 after Calarco and Berland lost reelection and William Spencer (D-Centerport) chose not to run after his arrest for allegedly trying to trade opioids for sexual favors. He has pleaded not guilty.

"This is so obviously a political move by the majority to somehow wrest control from decisions that were made by the voters in this year's election," said Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), who was term-limited and could not run for reelection. "The fact of the matter is the spirit of the charter should still carry some weight. The spirit of bipartisanship, that each and every one of us talks about, was written into the charter specifically with respect to this process to avoid exactly what is happening today."

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