After several rounds of blistering public hearings and politically pressurized back-and-forths, the temporary redistricting commission’s efforts to explore how new district lines should be drawn for the Town of Hempstead ended last Friday with its final recommendation.
After weighing the options, between the preliminary map pitched by the Town of Hempstead or alternatives by local civic and law groups, the three-member commission officially urged Town of Hempstead lawmakers to produce a final map that keeps communities of interest intact. Still, it stopped short of putting forward an actual map for the town to consider.
“We really sat, each one of us, and it truly was a hearing: we listened,” commission Chairman Gary Hudes told the audience. “I think in both cases there is a common thread we are seeing, and that is the idea of keeping communities whole and making them more compact.”
The move was met with a sharp uproar from the small crowd, dashing expectations for a final green light for a map.
Mimi Pierre-Johnson, the founder of the Elmont Cultural Center, said she felt the commission had turned a corner by formally acknowledging the faults of the Town of Hempstead’s preliminary map, but then did not deliver on a solid recommendation.
“Our hopes (were) snatched by the fact that they refused to stand behind one of the proposed alternative maps and tweak it as needed,” Pierre-Johnson said. “The resolution is not enough to satisfy everything the public raised a concern to.”
Since day one of the redistricting process, the concerns raised by residents and stakeholders circle back to a single theme: District lines should be redrawn to have a more balanced demographic representation of up to three “minority-majority” districts and compact historically and culturally whole communities. This is something all five alternative maps from the Elmont Cultural Center and Legal Defense Fund ensure.
Commission members Dorothy Brazley, Albert D’Agostino and Hudes admitted that not a single proposed map addresses all the issues the community has put forth, but claimed the recommendation was enough to communicate the gist of everyone’s concerns.
As it stands, the current map produced by Skyline Demographic Consultants Inc., the map consultants for the Town of Hempstead, ensures that the town’s 22 villages, with the exception of the Village of Hempstead, remain whole in accordance with the municipal home rule law. And communities such as East Meadow, Franklin Square, North Valley Stream, Baldwin, Uniondale and Woodmere each contain portions of two council districts, while West Hempstead contains portions of three districts.
Critics, however, raised doubts about the map’s compliance with federal and state voting rights protections — specifically the Voting Rights Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York.
Legal experts Michael Pernick of the Legal Defense Fund, civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington, Randolph McLaughlin and LatinoJustice PRLDEF argued that the splitting of the Black and Latino community in Elmont and Valley Stream into two separate majority-white districts dilutes minority voting power.
“Over 38 percent of the population in the Town of Hempstead is Black or Latino, but this demographic can only elect the candidate of their choice in one out of the six districts,” the law professionals stated in their letter.
Pernick and Brewington warned that if Hempstead finalizes the current map as it stands, it could expose the town to costly litigation at the taxpayers’ expense.
The town attorney confirmed that members of the public could voice their concerns at the next Town Board meeting, which was scheduled for Tuesday, after the Herald went to press, but did not confirm when the town will vote on a finalized map.