Bellone, McCaffrey strike a deal regarding Suffolk’s controversial redistricting plan

Bellone, McCaffrey strike a deal regarding Suffolk’s controversial redistricting plan

Residents rally in front of the H. Lee Dennison Building in support of IR 1964 on Jan. 24. Photo by Rita J. Egan

On Jan. 24, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and county Legislator Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), who serves as the Legislature’s new presiding officer, reached an agreement regarding a county redistricting debate that has been ongoing for months.

The agreement, according to a press release from Bellone’s office, “paves the way for an open and fair process for adopting new legislative district maps and ensures an increase in the number of majority minority legislative districts in Suffolk County.”

At press time, a special meeting of the Legislature was being held to vote on an amendment in the County Charter. If approved, it will extend the period of time needed for the reapportionment commission to file new redistricting maps until Aug. 1. The legislators will also vote on new legislation “establishing a requirement that any maps drawn and adopted ahead of the 2023 legislative elections shall include no less than four majority minority legislative districts,” according to the press release.

The statement further explained that the bipartisan reapportionment commission will hold at least 10 public hearings to enable each town in Suffolk County to take part before maps are developed. After maps, which would include 18 new legislative districts, are agreed upon, at least two more meetings will be held.

“I am pleased to announce an agreement with the presiding officer that guarantees an unprecedented four majority-minority legislative districts in Suffolk County through a transparent redistricting process that is legally sustainable,” Bellone said. “Given the importance of ensuring fair representation for communities of color and looming legal challenges to the proposed map in IR 1964, we cannot leave to chance anything short of ensuring equitable representation, reflective of the county’s diversity, in our legislative district map.”

Republicans had begun legislation to rescind the Democrats IR 1964 redistricting reapportionment map bill that was passed Dec. 31 by the Legislature, when Democrats still held the majority in the county legislature. The Republicans are currently in the majority, 11-7. A lawsuit was also filed against the plan by Republicans, while the bill awaited Bellone’s signature or veto.

The county executive said he will work with the Legislature on the new agreement, which he feels will “commence a fair redistricting process that provides for significant public input in preparation for the next county election cycle in November 2023.”

The decision was made on the same day that local community advocacy groups joined forces at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge in search of fair representation for all Suffolk County residents.

The representatives, with a letter in hand signed by the members of the advocacy groups as well as elected officials and representatives of local Democratic committees, were urging Bellone to sign IR 1964. After a brief press conference, the representatives hand delivered the letter to the county executive’s office.

Among the speakers at the rally was Beverly Dean of the Brookhaven Rosa Parks Democratic Association.

“We must do this,” Dean said. “We must have this bill signed. The Suffolk County Legislature came together on Dec. 31, and put into action what we needed and they passed it. We need our county legislators that we elected to sign this into law today.”

Shoshana Hershkowitz, founder of Suffolk Progressives, and others at the rally felt a Republican redistricting plan would be gerrymandering. After the agreement between Bellone and McCaffrey, Hershkowitz released a statement.

“We are disappointed that despite the widespread support for IR 1964, including nonpartisan organizations like the League of Women Voters, County Executive Bellone has chosen to make a deal behind closed doors with Presiding Officer McCaffrey,” she wrote. “Quite frankly, given Mr. McCaffrey’s legislative record, trusting him to honor the promise of equitable redistricting is highly questionable.”

Comments from the Jan. 26 Suffolk County Legislature meeting were not available at press time.