The Brookhaven Redistricting Committee held a public meeting at Comsewogue Public Library on Tuesday, Aug. 16, to hear comments from residents across the township.
For the third straight week, citizens of Port Jefferson Station/Terryville presented a united front, urging the committee to keep the hamlet intact on the Brookhaven Town Council.
Logan Mazer, a Coram resident whose “map of least change” has received generally favorable reception in recent weeks among the public, addressed why he believes the proposed maps on the redistricting committee’s website would harm communities of interest.
“The two proposed maps make a few edits to the current boundaries that are clearly not acceptable,” he said. “The first, of course, is splitting up Port Jeff Station from the rest of CD1 and including [part of] Mount Sinai. This cannot stand and any new map that this commission considers and any map that the Town Council considers must reunite Council District 1.” He added, “Our priorities need to be keeping communities together.”
‘We have worked hard over the past 15 years … and all of this has been brought forth to get us to this point where we’re redeveloping our area as one vision, one hamlet.’
—Charlie McAteerAmong those in attendance who advocated for preserving Port Jefferson Station/Terryville within CD1 was Charlie McAteer, the corresponding secretary of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association.
“We are one hamlet,” he told the committee. “We have worked hard over the past 15 years — 2008 was the hamlet study for the Comsewogue district — and all of this has been brought forth to get us to this point where we’re redeveloping our area as one vision, one hamlet.”
Joining this cause was John Broven, an East Setauket resident, who compared the current redistricting process to that of 10 years ago. After investigating the 2012 process, Broven found that the committee then had worked collectively as an apolitical, independent unit.
Unlike 2012, Broven suggested that this year’s hearings have been marked by controversy and that he is “genuinely worried at the prospect of gerrymandering … along with the illogical splits between Port Jeff Station/Terryville and also Mount Sinai.”
Nancy Marr, president of the League of Women Voters of Brookhaven, outlined her own displeasure with how the hearings have been advertised to the public.
“In this case, the publicity to inform and involve people has been inadequate,” she said. “I hope next time it’s better. Despite many hearings that were scheduled, most people in Brookhaven Town did not know about them in time to come and participate.”
Shoshana Hershkowitz, a South Setauket resident and a statewide organizer for Citizen Action of New York, discussed the findings of the 2020 U.S. Census, which indicate the changing demographics of Suffolk County residents.
“It is clear that the population of New York state and the population of Suffolk County shifted dramatically,” she said. “We were at 19% minority communities in 2010. We are now at 33% in 2020. That is a 76% increase.”
Despite these demographic changes, Hershkowitz said the two proposed maps on the committee’s website target the two most diverse council districts in Brookhaven: Districts 1 and 4.
“Neither of these districts requires much change,” Hershkowitz said. “They’re both within that 5% deviation,” mandated under town code. She advocated for the transfer of territory from District 6 into District 2: “The logical thing is to move from 6 into 2. Do not disrupt these diverse communities.”
Gordon Heights Civic Association president E. James Freeman spoke on behalf of the residents of Gordon Heights, who presently reside in Council District 4. He reiterated that Districts 2 and 6 are the only ones requiring change, and that any proposal to expand Council District 4 into other areas of the town would dilute the voting power and disenfranchise the people of his community.
“We are always coming in here to be able to fight, to be able to be heard, to be able to be seen, to be able to be represented,” he said. “The weight of the many is often carried by the few. You don’t have a lot of faces in here that look like me but, believe me, things will still get done as long as we have a collective voice across all people.”