A group of Wheatley Heights residents filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the Suffolk County Legislature, claiming that lawmakers violated their civil rights when they redrew district lines that split their community.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, asks the judge to strike down the new lines because they violate the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and to appoint a special master to help the Legislature draw a new map.
The new map, drafted and approved by the legislature in June and slated to go into effect next year, splits the predominantly African-American community between two legislative districts encompassing Huntington and Babylon towns. Currently, Wheatley Heights is in Suffolk's 15th Legislative District, represented by Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), legislative majority leader.
Under the revised map, Gregory would retain some of Wheatley Heights, but another portion of the community would be in the 17th District, represented by Legis. Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon).
J. Stewart Moore, a Central Islip attorney representing the plaintiffs, said Wheatley Heights residents historically have played a role in Babylon politics, and the shift would "dilute their influence in the political process."
Moore argued that, "by putting the district largely in Huntington they have diminished the power and influence of the Wheatley Heights community."
Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) said the legislature would "certainly look at the case," but called the new map "as fair a map as we can get."
Minority Leader John M. Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said he understood the residents' concerns, noting that he had advocated for a nonpartisan committee to propose the new election map.
"I don't fault these residents the least bit for seeking redress in the courts," Kennedy said.