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Appellate judge clears way for Suffolk vote on redistricting proposal

Suffolk County Legislative presiding officer Rob Calarco, right,

Suffolk County Legislative presiding officer Rob Calarco, right, at the William J. Complex Complex on Tuesday. Credit: James Carbone

The Suffolk County Legislature is expected to vote Friday on a Democratic redistricting proposal after an appellate judge, for the third time, overruled a county court order that had blocked legislative action.

New York State Appellate Division Associate Justice Lara Genovesi allowed the legislature to move forward with the redistricting proposal Tuesday evening.

Genovesi issued a temporary stay against a county Supreme Court order that had barred the redistricting vote a day earlier.

The legislature can now vote on the measure to set legislative district lines for the next decade — at nearly the last possible moment.

The vote will start around 9 a.m., hours before the legislative term — and Democratic control of the legislature — ends at midnight and all pending legislation expires.

Outgoing Presiding Officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue), who proposed the redistricting plan and whose term ends at midnight Saturday, said the appellate order will allow the legislature to proceed with this "important" work on his last day in office.

"It shows that we have been acting in our legal capacity all along and that we have the right and the responsibility to make sure that we're drawing fair legislative districts, which is what we're doing here," Calarco said.

Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), one of the plaintiffs in the case, said Republicans "are out of legal options at this point" to stop a vote.

Democrats are "going to be voting on something that's going to determine the fate of Suffolk County government for the next 10 years" just 15 hours before three of them leave office, said McCaffrey, who is expected to become presiding officer next week.

Democrats currently have a 10-8 majority, enough to pass the redistricting plan without any Republican support, officials said.

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

Calarco said "drawing fair maps is a good way to go out" of office.

Calarco’s proposal would double the number of districts where Black and Latino residents are the majority and keep similar communities together. It also would create nine largely Republican 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.

Republicans filed suit to block the plan on Dec. 7, arguing it violates the county charter.

Under the charter, a bipartisan commission is supposed to propose new district lines and hold four public hearings, with a Feb. 1 deadline to submit recommendations.

Calarco said his office drew the proposed district map because McCaffrey and Berland failed to appoint commission members by a Nov. 10 deadline.

Just as a redistricting vote was supposed to start Monday, acting Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farneti dismissed Calarco’s defense and said the proposal would violate the county charter by bypassing the commission before it's given a chance to draw lines.

Genovesi — in the sixth court order on the redistricting plan in three weeks — prevented Farneti’s order from taking effect until after a Jan. 10 hearing. She did not rule on Farneti’s findings on the measure's legality.

Even if the legislature approves the redistricting plan Friday, its fate is uncertain. The court battle is expected to continue in the new year, and County Executive Steve Bellone has not said whether he would sign the legislation.

"We'll see what happens," Bellone said Wednesday when asked what he will do if it passes.

With Brinley Hineman

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