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Brookhaven Redistricting Committee

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville residents fought successfully to defend their community against cracking, a harmful practice in political redistricting. Pictured above, several residents speaking up during an unofficial meeting of the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee at the Setauket Neighborhood House Friday, Aug. 5. Left to right: Ira Costell, Joan Nickeson, Francis Gibbons and Lou Antoniello. File photos by Raymond Janis
By Aidan Johnson

In an age and political culture defined by partisanship and polarization, the few examples of unity and solidarity give us hope. 

This summer, the people of Port Jefferson Station and Terryville did just that, defending their community’s integrity within the Town of Brookhaven. In this year’s controversial redistricting process, the strength, persistence and overwhelming numbers of these citizens would win the day.

Reapportionment is a decennial procedure within the town, adjusting the lines of its six council districts to reflect changes in population over those 10 years. 

From the beginning, this year’s redistricting process was marked by chaos and confusion. “The hearings were poorly advertised, they were chaotic, they were confusing, they were marked by a lack of support information from the town, which resulted in maps that just appeared out of thin air,” said Port Jefferson Station resident Ira Costell at a public hearing in September.

Two draft maps appeared on the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee’s website by late July. These maps, having no input from the committee itself, proposed significant changes along the borders of Council Districts 1 and 2, with much of Terryville potentially cut away from Port Jefferson Station.

Culturally and historically, Port Jeff Station and Terryville are a united community. Their residents share a zip code, school district, library, chamber of commerce and civic association, among other shared community institutions. When the people of this area were alerted to the proposed changes to their political representation, they stormed into action.

The summer of resistance

Cracking is an unpopular practice in political redistricting. By dividing a community across multiple districts, a mapmaker can also blunt that community’s voting power. The intended effect of cracking is often a dilution of public resources and funds away from the cracked area. 

Throughout the redistricting process, Terryville resident Joan Nickeson gave a forceful critique of cracking. “It is unconscionable that you would crack our high school from the rest of its district, and crack neighbor from neighbor, and actually cleave members of the chamber of commerce from the chamber of commerce office,” she told the Town Board during an August public hearing.

In an Aug. 11 letter to the editor, “Reflections on Brookhaven redistricting process,” Terryville resident Francis Gibbons criticized attempts to crack the community as antithetical to the values of freedom and democracy.

“Manipulation of the redistricting process is a game played by both parties throughout the United States,” he wrote. “To me, it is a disgusting game. It flies in the face of everything so many have fought and died for.”

Paul Sagliocca, a Port Jeff Station resident, commented on the historical progress the area has made in recent years. As the community embarked on its local renaissance, he questioned why others would attempt to disrupt that development and forward movement. 

The area “is on the up — we do not need to be divided,” he said in an August hearing. “I would really wish that when it comes time to vote, that Port Jeff Station/Terryville stays in one solid community within District 1.”

Throughout several public hearings before the redistricting committee, local residents came out in numbers to express their displeasure about the proposed maps and how they could their hinder their representation. They often criticized the committee process itself.

Setauket-based George Hoffman, a Democratic appointee to the redistricting committee, suggested that his fellow committee members had good intentions. However, he was discouraged by the process overall. 

“I think the whole experience was disappointing,” he said in an interview. “I think we could have come up with what would be considered fair.”

Even among the committee members, the process was rife with confusion and discontentment. In one occurrence in early August, a scheduled public hearing at the Setauket Neighborhood House was canceled just hours before its start. 

“They decided to cancel this meeting without any concern for the people that were already coming. They only pulled it from their website at 4:30,” Hoffman explained during the unofficial meeting that took place later. Many spoke anyway during this unofficial meeting, eager to make their voices heard before a committee without a quorum and to the rest of the attendees.


Despite the uncertainty throughout those pivotal summer months, the Town Board eventually heard the people and responded accordingly. On Thursday, Sept. 29, the board unanimously approved a map that keeps Port Jefferson Station/Terryville almost entirely unified within CD1.

Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), who represents the 1st District, expressed his appreciation for the effort and devotion of the residents throughout the process. 

“People are so busy these days that it seems like fewer and fewer people have time or attention for civic matters,” Kornreich said in a statement. “Seeing so many residents actively participating in what is usually a pretty dry government process was inspiring because even in today’s highly polarized political world, people from both parties united to advocate on behalf of their communities.” 

The councilmember added, “I have particular admiration for the folks from Port Jefferson Station and Terryville who have helped cultivate a very strong sense of community spirit over the last couple of years. There are so many exciting things happening in that area, and I am proud to continue to represent this thriving community.”

While the local residents prevailed in the end, the outcome was not universally triumphant. Throughout the process, many felt that the movement of the mostly white population of Ridge into Council District 4 could silence the voices of the ethnically diverse communities of Gordon Heights, Coram and North Bellport. Correcting this apparent injustice will be the responsibility of the entire township during the 2032 redistricting process. 

But the people of Port Jeff Station and Terryville should be proud of their redistricting success this year. Through their hard work over those confusing summer months, their community stands together — united and one. 

Their dedication and passion, courage to lift their voices to power, and commitment to lock arms and stand together were inspiring and could serve as a model for other communities.

For protecting their community and refusing to “crack” under pressure, TBR News Media recognizes the citizens who fought for a fair redistricting of Port Jefferson Station/Terryville as People of the Year 2022.

Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) questions the town’s mapmaker during a public hearing on Thursday, Sept. 29. Screenshot from the town website

The Town of Brookhaven’s controversial redistricting process concluded on Thursday, Sept. 29, after the Town Board voted unanimously to approve the latest proposed map.

The Town Board, which has a 6-1 Republican majority, took over the redistricting process after an appointed redistricting committee failed to find agreement on a draft proposal. Days after the committee formally disbanded, Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented his own map. For more on this story, see “Brookhaven officials react to latest redistricting proposal” (TBR News Media website). 

Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) kicked off the public hearing with a forceful line of questioning of the town’s designated mapmaker, David Schaefer of Schenectady-based firm Skyline Consulting. 

Kornreich pressed Schaefer on a range of subjects, such as his familiarity with the hamlets throughout the town. He also inquired about how Schaefer arrived at an original determination to split Port Jefferson Station and Terryville between Council Districts 1 and 2, and why he decided to move most of Ridge into CD4.

Responding, Schaefer said that he created the initial maps solely to bring the six council districts into roughly equal populations. “The first draft that I submitted is all population driven,” he said.

Following Kornreich’s line of questioning, residents pressed their representatives on the Town Board repeatedly over concerns that arose throughout the redistricting process and the alleged inequities in drawing the district lines. 

Ira Costell, a resident of Port Jefferson Station, argued Schaefer’s approach was unproductive, reducing redistricting to an analytic method while ignoring its impact on communities of interest.

“There’s more than just standard deviations and numbers at play here,” Costell said. “There’s people, there’s communities, there’s interests, and there’s fairness at stake here, and I don’t see a lot of it in what the mapmaker initially did.”

‘Despite the hideously flawed process that led here, I think in the end we’ve created a map that’s got some compromises, and it’s got a little something for everyone to be unhappy about.’

— Jonathan Kornreich

Costell further railed against the committee process, saying, “The hearings were poorly advertised, they were chaotic, they were confusing, they were marked by a lack of support information from the town, which resulted in maps that just appeared out of thin air.” He continued, “What does seem transparent, however, is the majority on this board seems poised to ignore the clear will and desires of the voters who did speak out.”

Terryville resident Lou Antoniello suggested Schaefer was not being truthful during his remarks. He added that tampering with district boundaries may affect future redistricting procedures.

“While the map that this board put together is light-years better than the original map, which cut out a huge chunk [of Terryville from CD1], it’s still cutting — cracking — Council District 1,” he said. “That sets a dangerous precedent for the future.”

Members of the redistricting committee also attended the public hearing. Among them was Gail Lynch-Bailey, who had served this year and in 2012. She referred to the two initial maps which split Port Jefferson Station and Terryville as a ploy to divert the public’s attention away from alleged gerrymandering in Council District 4. This district includes the racially and ethnically diverse communities of Coram, Gordon Heights and North Bellport.

“Once the public realized the commission had had no input into them, the maps were readily recognized by many for what they were: diversions, bait-and-switch tactics, ‘pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain’ maps intended to focus attention on the northern CDs instead of what was going on for CD4,” she said. “This ruse was, and still is, unconscionable.”

Also making an appearance was Ali Nazir, the Republican co-chair on the redistricting committee. He defended the movement of mostly white Ridge into CD4, citing the hamlet’s longstanding ties to the Longwood community.

“Despite rhetoric of the contrary, Ridge has always been in Council District 4,” Nazir said. “Ridge has a long history with the Longwood community, and to arbitrarily excommunicate them from the Longwood community is quite frankly wrong.”

Port Jefferson Station and Terryville, however, remain mostly united within the boundaries of Council District 1. Kornreich, who voted with the majority, justified his vote, saying this map would not split minority communities or dilute their votes.

“We negotiated in good faith, and the supervisor fulfilled his promise to keep Gordon Heights and North Bellport together, not to dilute the minority vote, and in good faith, I will support the agreement we made,” Kornreich said. “Is it an ideal map? No. Is it a map that I were to draw? Of course not. But when you’ve got one Democrat and a row of Republicans, you tell me what level of political power you have.”

In concluding his remarks, the CD1 councilmember said the final map reflects a series of compromises. “Despite the hideously flawed process that led here, I think in the end we’ve created a map that’s got some compromises, and it’s got a little something for everyone to be unhappy about,” he said, adding, “I hope that we can get to work and solve the real problems that face our town.”

No other board member spoke during the hearing. Following the vote, a droning cry rained from some in the audience, the dissidents shouting, “Shame on you, shame on you.” 

It remains unclear whether the map will face challenges in court or whether those challenges could hold up given the bipartisan outcome.

Graphic from the town website: https://www.brookhavenny.gov/DocumentCenter/View/29593/Brookhaven-Proposed-Districts-2022

The Town of Brookhaven has released its first proposed map to reapportion the Brookhaven Town Council. 

Last week, the town’s appointed bipartisan redistricting committee disbanded after failing to adopt an official map for the six council districts. Without a recommendation from the committee, the Town Board is now responsible for redrawing the district lines.

Following the dissolution of the redistricting committee, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) met with the six representatives on the Town Council to discuss their priorities for the new map. 

Jack Krieger, the town’s communications director, offered a statement outlining the methodology used to arrive at this new proposal. The supervisor could not be reached for comment.

“Over the course of the last several months, more than a dozen public hearings were held across the town by the Brookhaven Redistricting [Committee] in an open, transparent and public process,” Krieger said. “At these meetings, in emails to the [committee], and in local media, numerous residents, civic associations and community leaders voiced their concerns and opinions as to what newly created districts should include, and what they should not.” The communications director added, “The map that will be voted on includes numerous elements from these suggestions.”

In an exclusive interview, Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) offered some points he raised during his conversation with the supervisor. 

“The supervisor outlined a couple of his priorities, like keeping communities together and making as few changes as possible,” Kornreich said. “Another one that he expressed, which I didn’t happen to agree with, was getting as close to zero [percent deviation] as possible.” The councilmember added, “As long as it’s legal, as long as it’s within the tolerance, that [zero deviation] is just not as important to me. The other criteria are more important.”

One of the reasons for the outpouring of public resistance throughout the committee hearings was a general fear of dividing communities of interest across political boundaries and consequently diluting their voting power, leading to possible gerrymandering.

Krieger defended the new map in his statement, arguing that it “reduces the number of hamlets that are split between districts of multiple council members, has substantially equal populations with the least possible deviation, and contains clear and readily identifiable boundaries.” He added, “The map makes only minimal changes to accomplish this, with 90 percent of residents seeing no change in the district in which they live.”

Kornreich also addressed the public’s concerns. He said the debate surrounding his district, Council District 1, has been about defending the integrity of communities rather than advancing the interest of a particular party.

“This whole thing of me trying to defend the integrity of my council district was never a political effort,” he said. “It was a bipartisan civic effort. The people who had my back in this were as Republican as they are Democrat.”

Residents will again have an opportunity to weigh the redistricting plans during a public hearing on Thursday, Sept. 29, at Brookhaven Town Hall. The hearing will begin at 5 p.m.

The Town of Brookhaven seal. Photo from the town website

Following a contentious virtual meeting on Monday, Sept. 12, the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee failed to reach a compromise on a proposed map, sending the redistricting process to the Brookhaven Town Council.

The committee voted on three maps during the meeting, none of which received the six votes necessary to adopt an official proposal. There was significant controversy leading up to this meeting. Despite this, all eight members and the committee’s mapmaker, David Schaefer, were present.

However, members calling attendance seemed to be the only unanimous outcome of the night, as the three Democratic appointees clashed with their Republican and Conservative Party counterparts throughout the evening.

The meeting got out to a rocky start after an unsuccessful motion to adopt an agenda. Schaefer then presented three maps that the committee requested during the previous session.

Schaefer first presented a “map of least change.” This map addressed only Council Districts 2 and 6, the two districts whose populations fall outside the 5% deviation allowable under the Town Code. After a vote, this map failed 3-5, with Democratic appointees Rabia Aziz, George Hoffman and Gail Lynch-Bailey voting “yes” and all others voting “no.”

Schaefer also presented a map that loosely follows the proposal of Coram resident Logan Mazer. On the whole, the Mazer map was viewed favorably during the public hearings. However, this proposal was ultimately shot down by another 3-5 vote, with the same committee members voting for and against it.

Schaefer’s final presentation was a map that followed the boundaries of Proposal 2, one of the two original draft proposals which met fierce opposition during the public hearings. With some adjustments to the boundaries of CD1 and CD2, this new map kept much of Proposal 2 intact.

In the face of this public opposition, the map was the highest vote-getter, with a 5-3 vote count — one vote shy of formal adoption by the committee. Ali Nazir, Edward McCarthy, Delilah Bustamante, Krystina Sconzo and Chad Lennon voted “yes,” with the entire Democratic caucus voting it down. 

In a phone interview, Lynch-Bailey confirmed that the redistricting committee officially disbanded the following day around noon after Nazir and Aziz, the co-chairs, could not reach a compromise. Failing to adopt a proposal, the committee sends the process to the Town Council. 

During a Town Board meeting Tuesday, Sept. 13, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) discussed some of the criteria he will be looking for in the new map. He said he hopes to achieve an equal population distribution across council districts, keep minority communities together within district boundaries and reduce the number of split communities. The Town Board must adopt new council district outlines by Dec. 15. 

The supervisor expects a new map to be available on the town website by next week. A public hearing on the matter will be held at Town Hall on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 5 p.m. 

Visit our website to follow features on this important issue:

Brookhaven Redistricting Committee member on the public’s distrust of government

Gail Lynch-Bailey, a member of the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee in 2012 and 2022, above. Photo courtesy Lynch-Bailey

Gail Lynch-Bailey, president of the Middle Island Civic Association, has the unique distinction of serving on the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee both in 2012 and this year. In an exclusive interview, she discusses the breakdown of norms, procedures and public confidence as the committee works to meet its Sept. 15 deadline.

What is your background, and how did you get involved in the redistricting process?

I am the president of the Middle Island Civic Association. As such, I qualify to be a civic representative on the redistricting committee. I did it 10 years ago in the same vein: I was a Democratic appointee then and am one now.

What are your thoughts on how this year’s redistricting process has developed?

This 2022 redistricting process has been contentious and frustrating. It has caused me to rethink a lot of recommendations for the next time the town undergoes this process. I don’t think that we had enough time with the professional mapmaker. As commissioners, we needed a session early on in the process. Instead, we had six meetings with no maps, then two maps appeared, and then we had six hearings based on those maps — which were false maps because we had no input into them.

Now, we’re struggling to see if we get some public hearings on the mapmaker’s three maps we have legitimately requested. I sincerely hope we can do that because I think that’s part of our obligation to the public.

What are some key differences between the redistricting process this year and the one from 2012?

Ten years ago, we met in person as a commission and introduced ourselves. We learned a lot about each other and then had an informational and educational session with the counsel, Jeff Wice.

Then, we had a series of public hearings that were not scheduled during the week of the Fourth of July — when people are on vacation. We had two sessions per week running across three weeks in July. Then, we had a nice work session where we talked about what kind of maps we would like to get from the mapmaker. We had a very good understanding of the three maps we wanted. One was a map of least change. Another was along school district boundaries because that was one of the things we heard about from the public during the public hearings. The last map added more changes involving election districts and things like that.

We went from very little change to much more in those three maps. Then we had time to look at those maps before we went out to the public again. And that was what was missing this time: We got maps on a Friday, and then we were back in front of the public the following Monday. The public thought these were our maps, but we hadn’t even begun understanding what they were. They weren’t based on anything we or the public requested.

That meeting with the mapmaker and understanding of what we would get was missing. And I don’t know who made the schedule of the hearings, but it was unnecessarily daunting. 

What do you think accounts for the committee’s problems this year?

Perhaps it was going to be contentious from the start only because of the nature of the political arena right now. People distrust government at higher levels than I have ever experienced. One side may think that people will be mad no matter what we do. The other side will think that we’re not being transparent. The people are mad, and understandably so.

There have been a lot of complaints about a lack of publicity. Many things have changed at the last minute: We have had several cancellations, which only added to the lack of credibility in my opinion. 

These issues only compounded the already-high level of distrust in government from both sides. We have heard from people who identify as Republicans and Democrats about the attempt to change the Mount Sinai, Port Jefferson Station and Terryville areas. People from both sides of the aisle came out and said, “Why are you doing this? It’s completely unnecessary and we don’t understand it.” And they were absolutely right to ask that kind of a question. 

We’re supposed to be talking about the population disparities between [Council Districts] 2 and 6. Those are the two that are out of alignment, according to the 5% rule [in the town code]. Those first two maps made some strange changes that nobody could understand why they were there.

After you left the committee’s Aug. 18 virtual meeting, a resolution was approved 5-2 that preserves one of the initial drafts maps while reverting the boundaries of CD1 and CD2 to their current form. If you had been in the meeting, how would you have voted?

I probably would have voted “no” because it is not addressing what I have requested, which is the 2-6 boundary. 

With the proposed movement of Ridge into Council District 4, do you believe that district is at risk of partisan gerrymandering?

Yes, I am very worried about that. I live in CD4, and as a civic leader I work with Councilman [Michael] Loguercio [R-Ridge] all the time. We have an excellent relationship. 

I also understand that some of the people from the Ridge Civic [Association] would love to have fewer council representatives — they have three. 

Any number of the maps that we [the Democratic appointees] have proposed gets it down to two, eliminating Ridge from Council District 6. But we’re looking to do it equitably and fairly by not diluting the minority vote. It’s important.

How has public participation during this redistricting cycle differed from that of 2012?

The public has been very engaged, very vocal and very passionate. Again, this goes back to that distrust issue. And also, the ability of people to record themselves, get their message out, and share messages among people is different than it was 10 years ago. People have been able to share information — good information — about what’s going on, regardless of party, when they think that something is awry. 

Last time across all six public hearings, I think we may have had 25 to 29 separate speakers. We had more than 30 at the last public hearing alone … and that was just one hearing. It has been supercharged and contentious at times. I used the term “frustrating” earlier because our job is to listen during these sessions and not respond, and that has been hard for many of us to do. 

We know a lot of these people through different organizations and dealings over the years, so to be unable to sympathize with them or reassure them has been really challenging. 

What steps can the committee take in the next two weeks to meet its deadline and produce maps that reflect the will of the people?

I think the three maps we have requested should be posted on the town’s website immediately as soon as they are ready. I believe that the committee should meet to discuss the maps and then have a public hearing on those maps. We still have time. We have [the rest of] this week, all of next week and part of the following week. That’s plenty of time to get things done. 

The public has asked for two things: a map of least change, and respect for the possibility of a majority-minority district. There are three tenets that school districts, businesses and all levels of government have adopted: diversity, equity and inclusion. Those aren’t just trendy buzzwords. They are the hallmarks of creating a better society, and the maps that the committee and the town adopt need to embody those three tenets. 

Ten years. That’s a long time in local government. It’s a long time for all levels of government. But at the local level, 10 years can be an eternity.

Brookhaven Redistricting Committee member says residents must stay engaged

George Hoffman, a member of the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee, congratulated the residents who have mobilized throughout this process, but he believes their work is unfinished. Photo courtesy Hoffman

The redistricting committee recently approved the creation of three new draft maps, one of which you voted ‘no.’ Could you briefly explain your ‘no’ vote?

Ali Nazir, the co-chair, requested taking one of the first maps — which created all this controversy — and refining it by putting Council Districts 1 and 2 together but leaving everything else as it is. 

Ali’s resolution solves the issue of Mount Sinai and Terryville. Still, it keeps [Council District] 4 the way the mapmaker drew it. I voted ‘no.’ Rabia [Aziz] voted ‘no.’ Gail [Lynch-Bailey] had left because she had to go to a civic meeting by that time. The rest of the [members] voted ‘yes’ [for a 5-2 vote] and that’s very concerning.

What is your message to those who have successfully resisted the first two draft maps?

I congratulate the communities of Mount Sinai, Terryville and Port Jeff Station because they mobilized quickly to preserve their communities of interest. They wanted to stay with the original council district boundaries we have had for 20 years, so I would not minimize their involvement. And it was a very personal involvement: they were defending their communities and protecting their backyards. If they hadn’t come out in such strength, maybe the majority on that commission may not have put it back. But I think the bigger goal is still to crack CD4.

In your eyes, does the transfer of Ridge into Council District 4 constitute an act of partisan gerrymandering?

Yes, and I think it may even violate the [John Lewis] Voting Rights Act. It’s pretty clear that Ridge is a solid Republican-leaning area. To put it into a diverse community solely because it will affect the outcome of that district, I think, is certainly the definition of gerrymandering.

With a few adjustments to Council Districts 1 and 2, Hoffman said Proposal 2 (above) is still in play. Map from the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee’s website

How can concerned residents help to deter an unfavorable redrawing of CD4?

To all the residents of Brookhaven, we should be concerned. They should care about their own community — it’s important to fight for your own community of interest — but help as much as you can to have a fair and balanced redistricting townwide because what’s going on is not fair and it’s not balanced. My recommendation would be that everyone has to stay engaged.

What changes are you looking for in the coming weeks?

I think all six districts have a right to stay close to what they are currently. I recognize that Council District 2 is down a couple of thousand in terms of population, so you need to balance that. Council District 6 had a lot of growth, so you do have to remove some of the people there. But there shouldn’t be mischief in doing that.

What is your reaction to the committee’s recent meeting with David Schaefer, the mapmaker?

Last night [Aug. 18], we met with the mapmaker for the first time in a month and a half. We should have met with him at the outset, or at least after the first six public hearings. Because so few people showed up at the initial hearings, he should have at least asked us what our vision or goals were for the first map. To do a map without even talking to us is like an interior decorator designing your house without consulting you. 

I don’t think he’s politically motivated. I think he has good skills as a demographer and was pretty candid with us. But I do believe that he’s responding to some instructions. I think he’s data in/data out, and I don’t think you can do redistricting that way. Maybe he’s too much on the statistical side and not sufficiently understanding of communities.

Isn’t that the real purpose of redistricting? To balance out the populations but don’t destroy communities.

What is your understanding of the history of councilmanic districts in the Town of Brookhaven?

For years, the town used to elect its council people at large. There were always seven members — six board members and a supervisor — but they ran townwide. What happened was that they were not very responsive to local communities. You could vote against a community and still survive if you had the rest of the town, and it got very bad. 

A civic network was formed called ABCO, the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations, and it became huge. They would do a meeting and have dozens of civic organizations throughout the township meet to talk about how unresponsive the town was to their needs. It culminated in a movement for a referendum for council districts to divide the Town Council into six districts based on regional community interests. It went to a vote. The community was very organized, and they prevailed.

Council District 4 was seen as the most diverse district in the town. People saw it as the district that probably would be most successful at electing a diverse candidate, and both parties understood that. That was 2002, so for 20 years now, we’ve lived under these districts, more or less. 

I’m a bit taken aback by what’s happening in this redistricting. It’s pretty clear to me now that the goal is to change CD4 into a more favorable district, almost partisan gerrymandering to help the incumbent there [Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge)]. 

What are the risks of an overly analytical redistricting process that neglects the complex realities on the ground?

This is sort of a digression, but it has been over 75 years since splitting India into India and Pakistan. The map was done by a British guy who never went to India and just drew a straight line down the middle of the country following rivers, and over a million people died because the partition was done without any understanding of communities.

You can’t just do demographics without understanding the consequences of your mapmaking. I think [the mapmaker] has been much more on the statistical side, and I would like for the map to reflect a keener understanding of the communities of Brookhaven.

Screenshot taken from the Brookhaven Town website

The Brookhaven Redistricting Committee met Thursday, Aug. 18, in a virtual meeting with the committee’s mapmaker, David Schaefer. 

This meeting marks the first time throughout this process that the eight-member committee has met with the mapmaker. Before speaking with the various committee members, Schaefer gave his rationale for two draft maps that generated significant public interest and opposition. 

For Schaefer, political redistricting aims to balance populations across council districts. “Equal population is the reason we’re doing redistricting,” he said. “This is about one person-one vote, and all other criteria are secondary to that.”

Aside from this primary condition, Schaefer said that the New York Municipal Home Rule Law states several additional criteria that factor into the mapmaking process. Among these items are drawing maps that promote political participation of racial or language minorities; contiguity; compactness; unifying communities of interests; and facilitating the efficient administration of elections.

George Hoffman, a Setauket resident and committee member, pressed Schaefer on the two draft proposals that have generated significant public opposition throughout this process. He asked the mapmaker whether he had received any testimony that suggested swapping Mount Sinai and Terryville between Council Districts 1 and 2.

Schaefer said that though he had read through the public testimony to familiarize himself with the issues, those suggestions did not weigh into his drawing of the original maps. He considers the two proposals as rough drafts only.

“I don’t take it upon myself to put any weight on any of the testimony, whether it’s positive or negative,” he said. “I leave that for the commission to do, and I don’t think my draft is one that the commission should accept as anything more than a first draft.” He added, “If there are changes to be made or big issues to consider, those are in the next pass of what I would do.”

Committee member Krystina Sconzo, of Mastic Beach, raised the issue of evaluating election districts versus communities of interest. She said that she would like for the committee to prioritize communities of interest.

Sconzo and Gail Lynch-Bailey, of Middle Island, both reiterated one of the frequent complaints from the public regarding the legibility and accessibility of the draft maps. They both asked for future draft proposals to present as many details as possible. 

Schaefer acknowledged the request, indicating that a detailed draft proposal is relatively simple. “I can create individual maps that have every road, most of the street names on those roads, and I can do it very quickly,” he said.

Lynch-Bailey motioned for the mapmaker to produce a map addressing the population imbalances between Council Districts 2 and 6. She said these districts are the only ones falling outside the 5% deviation allowable under town code and, therefore, the only ones requiring change. 

“I request a map that addresses just those two districts, and please put back Mount Sinai and Terryville,” she said. The motion passed the committee unanimously.

Co-chair Rabia Aziz, of Coram, cited the considerable public testimony regarding the proposed changes to Council District 4. She said that while the initial draft proposals keep the diverse communities of Gordon Heights and North Bellport within CD4, they dilute the voting power of those areas through the incorporation of Ridge into CD4.

“If you dilute the ability of people of color to be able to elect someone that has their community of interest at heart, then I think that is not in concert with what the community would want,” she said. “It should be a council district of least change.”

Aziz moved to send all of the public map submissions to Schaefer and have him produce a map that loosely follows the boundaries set forth by the Logan Mazer map. Aziz’s resolution passed the committee unanimously. For more on the Mazer map, see the TBR News Media story, “Residents, elected officials fight to keep PJS/Terryville intact” (Aug. 11).

Ali Nazir, of Lake Grove, made the final motion of the evening. He asked to produce a map that follows the boundaries of Proposal 2, currently on the website, but restores Port Jeff Station/Terryville and Mount Sinai. Nazir’s resolution passed the commission 5-2, with Hoffman and Aziz voting “no.”

Members of the committee agreed to give Schaefer at least a week to prepare the three draft maps requested during this meeting. The committee decided to reconvene in the first week of September to mull over the new maps. To watch the entire meeting (starting at 4:21:50), click here.

Cartoon by Kyle Horne: kylehorneart.com @kylehorneart

As citizens of a free nation, we have the right to make our voices heard at the ballot box. 

This coming Tuesday, Aug. 23, we will cast our votes for congressional and state senatorial primary elections. But democracy doesn’t end when we leave the polling place. In fact, that is only where
it starts. 

Cartoon by
Kyle Horne:

Recently, TBR News Media has witnessed a flurry of popular energy within our coverage area. Look no further than Port Jefferson Station/Terryville to learn what democracy looks like while in motion. 

Since the inception of councilmanic districts in the Town of Brookhaven in 2002, Port Jefferson Station/Terryville has fallen within Council District 1. However, two maps on the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee’s website propose dividing that community across separate council districts.

For three weeks running, the people of the united hamlet of Port Jefferson Station/Terryville have turned out in numbers, eager to keep their community intact under a single council district. In the face of uncertainty, the Greater Comsewogue community has stood up to power, spoken out and may make a difference.

While the redistricting process remains ongoing, Port Jefferson Station/Terryville has illustrated the power of a united public. Through their mobilized efforts, the people have demonstrated what democracy can and
should be. 

Politicians are in office to carry out the will of the people. When they defy the popular will in favor of their own agendas, it is the right and obligation of the people to correct course. 

Though democracy may die in darkness, it shines brightest when ordinary citizens light the way. In their moment of history, the people of Port Jefferson Station/Terryville remind us that there is no greater force in nature than a united people. 

Communities across Long Island should learn from this example. Through their actions, we uncover the formula for positive change in our own communities. If we all take a page out of their playbook, then there is no end to what we can achieve together. The redistricting commission and Town Board should take careful note of the wishes of We the People.

Members of the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee hear comments from the public at Comsewogue Public Library on Tuesday, Aug. 16.

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.”

Charlie McAteer, corresponding secretary of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, informs the committee of the historic ties between Port Jeff Station and Terryville. Photo by Raymond Janis

‘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 McAteer

Among 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.”

Residents traveled to Brookhaven Town Hall, above, to resist two draft proposals on the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee's website. Photo from the town website

For the second consecutive week, the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community gave a strong display of community solidarity, this time during a public meeting at Brookhaven Town Hall on Thursday, Aug. 11.

Joined by neighbors from around the township, residents spoke out against two proposed maps for the redistricting of Brookhaven Town Council. If approved, the proposed maps would make significant changes to the existing boundaries of Council Districts 1 and 2, severing large chunks of Port Jefferson Station from Terryville and cutting Mount Sinai in half.

Public comments

Logan Mazer, a Coram resident, has proposed an alternative to the maps on the redistricting committee’s website. He told the Town Board that the only two districts requiring change are Districts 2 and 6 — the former being underpopulated and the latter being overpopulated. Because the two districts share a border, Mazer proposed the simple transfer of territory from District 6 into District 2 to correct the population imbalance.

The map of least change “doesn’t really change the political alignment … it doesn’t produce any gerrymandered districts and it protects communities of interest that are being carved up in these new maps for no discernable reason,” Mazer said.

Throughout the evening, Mazer’s map received favorable reactions from those in attendance. Among the supporters of the Mazer map is Lou Antoniello, a member of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, who considered the draft proposal a way to transfer the burden of costs and maintenance into District 1.

“They showed that there was a portion of Mount Sinai — a beautiful section down by Cedar Beach and the surrounding community — which is a high-maintenance area for Mount Sinai that would be swapped out for the relatively self-sufficient area of Terryville,” he said. “I am here tonight to tell you that I don’t think that map is a map that should be voted on.”

Joan Nickeson, a Terryville resident and community liaison for the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, discussed the phenomenon of cracking, a practice in political redistricting that dilutes the voting power of an area by distributing its population across districts.

“It is unconscionable that you would crack our high school from the rest of its district, and crack neighbor from neighbor, and actually cleave members of the chamber of commerce from the chamber of commerce office,” she said. Addressing the board, she added, “I want you to remember to keep [the] 11776 [zip code] together when you go to vote.”

Paul Sagliocca, also a member of PJSTCA, shared the historic neglect of PJS/Terryville. He said that recently, the community has begun to counteract that narrative, introducing a Shakespeare in the Park event at the Chamber Train Car Park and building momentum for positive changes to the area.

Sagliocca asked that the board not impede the development of the area by dividing community members across political boundaries. “It is on the up — we do not need to be divided,” he said. “I would really wish that when it comes time to vote, that Port Jeff Station/Terryville stays in one solid community within District 1.”

Francis Gibbons, a Port Jefferson Station resident and member of the PJSTCA, said the redistricting process has diminished the public’s faith in its institutions. “Why are we continuing with this farce?” he asked. “I believe disenfranchisement brings with it a lack of political faith in our system. When you have a lack of faith, after time it brings civil war.”

Community members were joined by allies from the village of Port Jefferson. Bruce Miller, a former trustee of Port Jefferson Village, criticized the process. He considered the multiple cancellations of public hearings in CD1 as a way to silence the public.

Miller also suggested that the proposed maps fail to advance the interests of the town. “Just leaving Mount Sinai and Port Jefferson Station and Terryville the way they are seems to be a more appropriate strategy,” he said. “All this straining, all these machinations, result in small gains but are a bad look that angers the public needlessly.”

Also attending was Port Jeff Village trustee Rebecca Kassay. Speaking on her own behalf, Kassay told the Town Board that plans to divide Port Jefferson Station/Terryville would impair the village’s own efforts to revitalize its uptown areas.

Citing her history of coordinating with the PJS/T chamber of commerce and the civic association, the village trustee said, “To see the work slowed at all by political lines, by having these two communities needing to go to two different councilmembers, that would surely slow down the work and the progress of the area at large.”

Kassay also described how a breakdown in procedure can alienate ordinary citizens from the political process, leading to cynicism and distrust of their elected officials.

“There are people who truly believe that all politicians get into office and then they serve themselves or they serve their parties, and I don’t want that to continue,” she said. “I want all elected officials to stand up and make decisions and show their allegiance to their constituents and not their party.”

Supervisor’s reply

Following the public comments, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) responded to those in attendance. He thanked the residents for coming out and for expressing their opinions. The supervisor affirmed his trust in the Town Board to listen carefully to constituent concerns.

Romaine also discussed the criteria that he will use to evaluate the proposed maps, saying that he favors a map that offers fewer “splits” of communities of interest.

“As supervisor, I’m going to tell you, I’m going to be looking for a map with less splits,” he said. “Your comments were very helpful. We’re looking for less splits.” Referring to his colleagues on the Town Board, the supervisor added, “I think they’ll sit down and they’ll take all the comments that you said … and they will consider all of them.”

The next meeting of the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 6 p.m. at Comsewogue Public Library, 170 Terryville Road, Port Jefferson Station, NY 11776.