Suffolk Dems Ram-through Lame-Duck Gerrymander
By Priya Persaud
On New Year’s Eve, the lame-duck Suffolk County Legislature was called together for an “emergency” meeting – to participate in a straight party-line vote - to adopt a controversial and heavily-gerrymandered redistricting plan pushed by Democrats.
Under the county charter, redistricting plans are to be recommended once every ten years, from a bi-partisan Reapportionment Commission. However, the Democrats – who have run the legislature for the past 20 years, but lost their majority in November’s elections – demanded the right to pass their own redistricting plan, without a plan from the Commission, before the Republicans took over on January 1st.
Three times – on December 21st; December 27th, and finally on December 31st, the Democrats called “emergency” meetings to pass their gerrymander. The first two times, the State Supreme Court enjoined the vote as illegal. But at their third “emergency” meeting, on New Year’s Eve, the Democrats got a “stay” from an Appeals Court, and then rammed-through their plan by a straight 10-8 party line vote.
Republicans blasted the Democrats power-play as “pure political revenge” designed to “cheat the voters who elected a Republican majority and punish the Republican candidates who won.”
The Democrat’s plan deliberately merged four newly-elected Republicans together in new districts, and drew loops and tentacles on the map around Republican’s homes, to try to force Republicans to sell their houses and move, in order to remain eligible to represent their districts.
The Democrat’s power-play was spearheaded by three losing candidates: Robert Calarco, the former Presiding Officer, and Susan Berland, the Democrats Majority Leader – both of whom lost their elections in November; and William “Doc” Spencer – who left office under felony indictment, for stealing narcotics from Huntington Hospital and selling them to drug-addicted prostitutes for sex.
One of Spencer’s alleged victims - to whom he had supplied illegal drugs – died a drug overdose, according to police. Spencer was arrested in a Suffolk County car, “carrying illegal narcotics, condoms, and personal lubricant…” according to the District Attorney.
Berland – who lost her election in November by 52% to 48% to Republican Manny Esteban in the Dix Hills district - “re-drew” the 17th district to punish Esteban for defeating her.
County Executive Steve Bellone – who is term-limited but must co-exist for the next two years with the new Republican Legislature - must now decide whether to adopt or to veto the lame-duck Democrats’ plan.
In interviews, Republican legislatures have expressed their hope that Bellone will veto the law - in respect for the county charter, and in support of bipartisanship.
“The spirit of bipartisanship was written into the charter, specifically, with respect to this process, to avoid exactly what is happening today,” stated Republican legislator Tom Cilmi after the New Year's Eve vote. “There was no attempt to discuss with the [Republican] minority the drawing of these district lines and what the districts would look like.”
The new Republican-majority Legislature - sworn in on January 1st - is expected to repeal the Democrats' gerrymander vote, and vote to empanel the Redistricting Commission