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Suit claims Hempstead's district maps violate voting rights

Hempstead Town Hall Plaza is at 1 Washington

Hempstead Town Hall Plaza is at 1 Washington St. Credit: J.C. Cherubini, 2011

Hempstead Town's new council district map violates the voting rights of African-Americans and Hispanics, dilutes their voting power and fails to create a second majority-minority district, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Central Islip.

The plaintiffs -- Dennis Jones of Hempstead Village, Milagros Vicente of North Valley Stream, and Hermione Mimi Pierre Johnson and Monique Hardial, both of Elmont -- are requesting a temporary restraining order against the town, the state and Nassau County boards of elections and their commissioners.

"They are representing all those minority voters in those areas that are affected by this," said Manhattan attorney Gary Carlton, who is representing the plaintiffs pro bono. "We are not trying to make this a Democrat-Republican thing. It is a majority-minority situation," he said, referring to districts where minorities are a majority of the population.

The four registered Democrats are asking the court to declare the redistricting plan adopted by the GOP-controlled town board April 9 a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and of the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. They also are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop any election proceedings and prevent the town from implementing the redistricting plan before the petitioning process begins in early June.

They also want the court to order the town to redraw the district lines with help from a special master and direct the town to pay associated costs.

"If the town Republicans really cared about the communities, they wouldn't separate minority communities," said Jones, an African-American who is second vice president of the New Hempstead Democratic Club.

Town spokesman Michael Deery said Tuesday that officials had not received a copy of the suit. "The Hempstead Town Board supported the redistricting proposal in a bipartisan manner," he said. "The new district lines meet all legal requirements."

The new map, which will set voting districts for America's largest township for the next decade, maintains one majority-minority district; a Democratic-drawn version had two.

Democratic Elections Commissioner William Biamonte, who is named in the suit, called the GOP map "invalid" and "illegal."

State elections board spokesman John Conklin declined to comment.

The suit cited census figures showing the town's white population decreased by 12.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, while the black population grew 10.7 percent and the Hispanic population increased 52.5 percent. The town's overall population grew 0.5 percent.

"There should be an opportunity to have another minority district created based on the population," said Vicente, a Hispanic community activist.

Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, the only Democrat and first African-American woman on the town board, said she was happy with the new map. Goosby won a suit against the town in 1997 claiming its then-use of at-large districts discriminated against minority communities.

"It is up to them to prove their point with the court," Goosby said of the plaintiffs.

The parties are due in court next Tuesday at 11 a.m.

Editor's note: Democratic elections commissioner William Biamonte is one of two county elections commissioners named in a federal lawsuit alleging Hempstead Town’s new council district map violates the voting rights of African-Americans and Hispanics. His status in the suit was incorrect in a story Wednesday.

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