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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.

Facebook photo

After months of controversy, the Town of Brookhaven’s redistricting process is nearing completion. Earlier this week, the town released its latest proposal to reapportion its six council districts.

While this new map signals progress for the residents of Council District 1, our work is unfinished. This map still splits Comsewogue School District unnecessarily. As this redistricting process enters the home stretch, let’s remember how we got here. 

At the outset, powerful and unknown forces sought to crack Council District 1, targeting Port Jefferson Station and Terryville which share a school district, zip code, library, civic association and chamber of commerce. The original draft maps proposed cutting this hamlet in two, dividing our residents across different council districts. If adopted, these plans could have caused a diversion of public resources away from our area and disrupted years of progress — and future plans — made by our residents.

Seeing that our interests were at stake, the people took action. Civic organizations and business groups mobilized the troops, sending members to public hearings to resist these plans. Many spread the word by writing letters to the editor, which appeared on this page. And our hometown paper regularly covered the issue and vigorously editorialized on behalf of our districts.

The people of Port Jefferson Station/Terryville and beyond presented an overwhelming, unified front — a force too large to be ignored. Confronted by such stark opposition, the redistricting committee had little choice but to acquiesce to the community’s demands, restoring the boundaries of Council District 1 to their previous form.

The Town Board’s new map looks promising for most Comsewogue residents, but not all. Under this plan, the dividing line between CD1 and CD2 is Pine Street, meaning Comsewogue families in the school district east of Pine will belong to Council District 2. 

This year’s redistricting controversy has brought our community together. It has demonstrated the power of civic and business groups in coordinating their efforts. It has taught us there is strength in unity. It has also illustrated the dynamic interplay between a community and a community newspaper. 

When we speak with one voice, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. The Town Board will hold a public hearing on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 5 p.m. On that day, we must tell our elected representatives to bring our neighbors back into CD1. For the betterment of our community, let’s finish our work to the bitter end. No Comsewogue family can be left behind. 

Building upon our successes, we should remember we are not alone in this cause. The Mount Sinai activists were equally triumphant in preventing the splitting of their hamlet. And in CD4, our neighbors in Coram and Gordon Heights continue to fight apparent attempts to gerrymander that area.

The Town Board has a 6-1 Republican majority, and must adopt a new map by Dec. 15. How we proceed over the coming weeks could impact Brookhaven elections over the next 10 years.

Above: The three Democratic appointees to the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee during an unofficial public hearing on Friday, Aug. 5. (Left to right) George Hoffman, Rabia Aziz and Gail Lynch-Bailey. File photo

The Brookhaven Redistricting Committee is nearing its Sept. 15 deadline, and the eight-member commission is in shambles. With less than a week to go, it seems probable that the committee will not meet the six-vote threshold necessary to adopt an official map for the Town Council. The following is an open letter sent on behalf of the three Democratic appointees on the committee, addressed to their fellow commissioners: 

Dear Co-Chairman Ali Nazir and Commissioners,

We, the members of the Democratic caucus of the Town of Brookhaven Redistricting Commission, renew our request for our next meeting to take the form of an in-person public hearing, to be held at Town Hall on Monday, Sept. 12, at 6 p.m. 

We also request that our co-chairs work out in advance of the meeting an agreed-upon agenda that indicates the issues to be discussed at the meeting, which includes a discussion on both maps that are currently before the commission: Prop2A13 and TMOLC. 

If there is a possibility that maps may be voted on at that meeting, it should also be included on the agenda.

We ask that the mapmaker [David Schaefer] join us, virtually if that is his only recourse, to review the maps and add data similar to that which accompanied the initial two proposals. 

The Town Code establishing reapportionment criteria sets no number of public hearings. Thus far, we have held six hearings on zero maps and six hearings on two unrequested maps. 

The concept of having zero public hearings on the three maps we actually requested is anathema to us. 



Rabia Aziz, Co-Chair

George Hoffman

Gail Lynch-Bailey

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.

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.

Coram resident Logan Mazer, above, presented a map of least change, a proposal he said would preserve communities of interest on the Brookhaven Town Council.

From gavel to gavel, it looked like any other public meeting of the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee. 

But this was no meeting at all, at least not officially. Without a stenographer, an advising counsel or quorum, the three members present were left alone in a hot and humid room to hear public comments on redistricting.

George Hoffman (left), Rabia Aziz (middle) and Gail Lynch-Bailey (right) during an unofficial public meeting of the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee. 

On Friday, Aug. 5, five of the eight members of the Brookhaven Redistricting Committee failed to make an appearance at a public meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Setauket Neighborhood House, standing up the three Democratic appointees to the committee and dozens of Brookhaven residents. For a committee that is, by design, supposed to be nonpartisan and independent, this marks yet another setback in a redistricting process which has become an all-out circus.

Meeting cancellation

George Hoffman, a Setauket resident and member of the redistricting committee, explained the last-minute cancellation of Friday’s meeting. He said originally the committee suspected it would have enough members to hold the meeting. 

In the final hours leading up to the meeting, Hoffman said the quorum quickly dissolved as more committee members announced they could not attend. By mid-afternoon, the committee’s counsel, Vincent Messina, informed the remaining members that the meeting was canceled.

“This afternoon at 2 or 3 o’clock, we were told that Vinny Messina canceled the meeting without even discussing it with the chairpeople,” Hoffman said. “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, who has clashed publicly with the committee’s counsel, has criticized the way in which the redistricting process has unfolded. Despite a looming Sept. 15 deadline, Hoffman said the committee members have had little to no input throughout this process.

“The committee has been completely divorced from the mapmaking process,” he said. “Other than just sitting here at the public meetings that we’ve had, we’ve never met with the mapmaker, we’ve never explained what we would like to see in the maps.” Referring to the two maps that have circulated on the committee’s website, he added, “Those maps came out of nowhere. We never accepted them as a committee, even for discussion purposes. They’re just a fiction.”

Between the mysteriously created maps and the cancellation of public meetings, Hoffman has expressed growing frustration with the outside counsel. “We’ve tried to pull together this commission, but they keep insisting that those maps that they created somehow have validity, which we say they don’t.”

Messina could not be reached for comment.

‘The most egregious and unnecessary thing that I see in these proposed maps is dividing Port Jefferson Station.’

—Steve Englebright

Public comments

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) reflected on the days when there were at-large elections for the Brookhaven Town Council. With at-large elections, the residents did not feel connected to their representatives. 

The change to councilmanic elections did not change the balance of power in Brookhaven, according to Englebright, but it strengthened the connection between representatives and constituents.

“It was not something that favored the Democratic Party — what it favored was the democratic principle,” Englebright said. “It favored direct representation, it made Brookhaven grow up, if you will, within the context of the promise and premise of a direct representation form of government.”

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), above, condemned draft maps that propose the splitting of Port Jefferson Station and Terryville into separate council districts. 

Englebright addressed the precarious future of Port Jefferson Station/Terryville, which is split  under the two draft proposals on the committee’s website. He supported keeping that community of interest unified under one council district.

“Port Jefferson Station, under the mysterious map, would be divided — the library would be in one part, the high school would be in somebody else’s district,” the assemblyman said. “We worked hard for communities to have … direct representation, so the most egregious and unnecessary thing that I see in these proposed maps is dividing Port Jefferson Station.”

Logan Mazer, a resident of Coram, responded to the two map proposals on the committee’s website. “When I saw the two maps that were put out, I was disgusted and horrified that they would attempt to make such a dramatic change from the current maps that we have now,” he said. 

Mazer proposed a map of his own. “Today, we have a viable option with my map, the map of least change,” he said. “While I will be the first to admit that the map has its flaws and is not perfect, I wholeheartedly believe that it is the best option to create fair and equitable [districts] for all of Brookhaven Town.”

Ira Castell, a member of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, supported Mazer’s proposal, arguing that it best comports with the town code and keeps communities of interest together.

“That meets the letter of the law and the intent of the law,” he said. “It keeps the capacity for this community of interest — ours here in the 1st District — to stay together.” He added, “It’s not the ‘Port Jeff Station/Half of Terryville Civic Association.’ We are all united.”

Castell defined the term “community of interest.” A community of interest, he said, “is for people who have a common policy concern and would benefit from being maintained in a single district. Another way of understanding a community of interest is that it is simply a way for a community to tell its own story.”

Under this definition, PJS/Terryville constitutes a community of interest, according to Castell. For this reason alone, it should be unified within the town council, he indicated.

Port Jefferson Village trustee Rebecca Kassay, above, stood in solidarity with her neighbors in PJS/Terryville. 

Port Jefferson Village trustee Rebecca Kassay also made an appearance at this unofficial meeting. Speaking as a private citizen, she stood in solidarity with her neighbors in Port Jefferson Station/Terryville. 

“I have had tremendous success … working alongside the civic association, the chamber of commerce and these other groups in Port Jefferson Station/Terryville, who have made phenomenal progress,” Kassay said. “As their neighbor, I know that our success in revitalizing the uptown of Port Jefferson village hinges on the success of Port Jefferson Station/Terryville.” She added, “I do not want to see that community split up because there is so much strength there.”

Following adjournment, members of the public agreed to bring their grievances to Brookhaven Town Hall during a meeting of the Town Board on Thursday, Aug. 11, at 5 p.m.

—Photos by Raymond Janis

Photo from Brookhaven Town website

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has encountered several hurdles throughout his tenure. In Part II of this two-part series, he forecasts the upcoming redistricting process for the town council, highlights the challenges of offering adequate public transportation to Brookhaven residents and shares the lessons learned from his decades in public office.   

What are your expectations for the upcoming redistricting of the Brookhaven Town Council?

I don’t expect many changes whatsoever. I don’t expect it to be controversial. There will be some people who are partisan who will want to make it controversial, but it will not be partisan.

I expect it will be done fairly. I do not expect many changes at all. I do expect that the minority-majority district stays together, and that’s the district that includes North Bellport and Gordon Heights, which are the two major minority areas in our town, as well as Coram.

So I don’t expect many changes at all. The only changes that would have to be made are for the shift in population that the [2020] Census would project.

Now I don’t have anything to do with redistricting. We have a Redistricting Committee and we are waiting for the Redistricting Committee to come and offer choices, which will be discussed by everyone on the Town Board.

But the council will be voting on the maps, correct?

At some point, but I’m not going to vote for any major changes. I expect there to be only minor changes as reflected by a shift in population. And I do expect to keep the 4th [Council] District together, which includes Gordon Heights and North Bellport, so that those major minority communities continue to have the opportunity for representation.

In draft maps circulated by the Redistricting Committee, there is a proposal to split the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community, along with Mount Sinai, between two council districts. Would you vote under any scenario to separate those communities of interest?

There might be a scenario in which I would take a look at that. You’re asking a simple question to a complicated answer. There are other factors that you have to take into account, such as keeping a minority district intact. The second district, which is represented by Jane Bonner [R-Rocky Point], has to grow. Where does that grow? How does that affect things?

If we don’t do that, how does that affect the other districts? Because it’s like a Rubik’s Cube: You have to turn all the sides to get it perfect. I want to hear their explanation and I certainly want to listen to why they thought that was the better choice. I want to listen to that, and I’m not about to rush to judgment on anything without hearing a full explanation, and I’m sure those issues will be raised at our public hearing.

What are your thoughts on the state of public transit in your township?

I am a huge supporter of public transportation because there are a lot of people that depend on it. The bus system in this county is so broken. We don’t get even half of the subsidy that Nassau County gets. It’s just incredible, the lack of coordination between buses and trains, which is so needed because not everyone owns a car or wants to use a car.

Do you believe that the Long Island Rail Road is doing enough to expand services into Brookhaven?

I live in the largest town [by area] and the second most populous town in the State of New York, and yet it is served by 19th-century technology: diesel, which is a polluting, dirty fuel.

I have been beating and beating on this issue since the day I came here. We should have had electrification of all of our lines much earlier than this and we’re still arguing over it. Every year we argue that, the price goes up. So we’re stuck with diesel, which is a polluting fuel.

Other than a mile on the main line in Ronkonkoma, all of my three lines — the southern, the main line and the northern line — are all diesel. Electric ends at Huntington, and from Huntington to Port Jeff it’s all diesel. Electric ends at Ronkonkoma and everything east is diesel. Electric ends on the Montauk line at Babylon, and everything east is diesel.

The investment has been skewed away from this Island. Our voice has not been raised, there hasn’t been an investment in providing modern technology. And I’m talking about 20th-century technology, which is electric; 21st-century technology is maglev [a train technology supported by magnetic repulsion] … Forget it, they’re not even talking about the future.

Most 20th-century technology has bypassed my town because the [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] has not made any investment. All the money seems to be funneled into the City of New York. We have a million-and-a-half people out here in Suffolk County, and that’s wrong.

It’s so frustrating. I am passionate about these issues and I am in public office to do something, not to sit here and collect a salary but to do something and to make a change for the better for everyone in this town.

Could you summarize your approach to budgeting, taxation and public expenditures?

I believe there’s a role for public expenditures. I also believe, living as I do on Long Island, that our taxes are way too high and that we have too many levels of government. It’s amazing: If you go elsewhere in the United States, you don’t have all the levels of government that we have here.

I’m a great believer in — as much as possible — not raising taxes and being fiscally responsible. Someone said, “Can you sum up your political philosophy?” Yeah, I’m a fiscal conservative, a social moderate and an environmental liberal. It’s really simple.

When I arrived, it was no fault of Supervisor [Mark] Lesko [D] or Supervisor [Brian] Foley [D], both of whom I had known for many, many years, that they were caught up in the 2008 recession. Things were bad, the town had taken on debt and we were not viewed as financially stable.

When I came [into office], I said, “Let me see the last audit.” The audit had numerous exceptions that pointed out the failings of the town. I worked on that audit and those exceptions to improve our financial condition. And I have to say, I am blessed with a very good finance commissioner, Tamara Branson. She is very, very good, along with a number of other people in the finance department.

I worked with them and the following year, the rating agencies gave the town a AAA bond rating and we’ve never had less for as long as I have been supervisor. We’ve always stayed at or below the tax cap and have always tried to limit and look at things on how we could be more efficient in delivering services because there’s a tremendous amount of inefficiency built into governmental services.

What motivates you to continue your work to this day?

I’m motivated because I see that with effort and energy, you can make a difference, if only incrementally. I am about doing all I can to move Brookhaven forward. I owe it to the people that elected me.

There are a lot of bad things about public life, but the great thing is that you meet a lot of great people. You get involved with civics and other organizations; you see people donating their time and energy for the public good; and it’s great to work with people like that. We have a lot of nonprofits and civics that we work with to make this town better.

That keeps my motivation going, and I’m just going to continue to do that and focus on the job as supervisor every day I come to work, whether it’s on the small problems or the big problems.

Looking back, which project or initiative are you proudest of? And conversely, what do you view as your greatest setback along the way?

I would say that the things I’m proudest of are saving as much open space and farmland as possible — both as a [county] legislator and a supervisor — and putting a plan together to preserve the Carmans River Watershed. I view that as a tremendous achievement, not of myself, but something that will endure because it will mean that these areas will not be developed.

My greatest disappointment is not getting people to do the right thing, like the MTA with electrification, or the [New York Department of Environmental Conservation] on working with us to strengthen recycling. These are all regulatory things, and we need people to be less regulatory and more innovative in terms of approaching issues such as recycling and mass transit.

Also, I have been here for a while and I see the structure of government. Brookhaven would be much better off by itself as a county. To have one level of government to be able to go to and get things accomplished would probably be better, but that’s not practicable and that’s not happening.

That being said, you set yourself up, you work at it every day, and hopefully you will make a difference. The biggest thing I can do when I’m eventually retired is to look back upon the town and say, “I left it better than when I found it.”

What do you consider to be your legacy at Town Hall?

I think it would be embodied in the phrase, “Save what’s left.”

Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

First of all, I’m very honored to be a supervisor and I remind myself every day of what an honor it is to serve the people of Brookhaven, who have been extremely kind to me by electing me by large margins each time I’ve run. They have given me the confidence and the faith to do their work every day.

I am so lucky to have the trust and support of the majority of the people in this town. I don’t forget it and I am very grateful for it, so I would say thank you for the opportunity to serve. I hope that those who follow me come with the same passion, commitment and dedication. And I am sure that there are many who came before me who did the same.

If we can continue that, our society is going to be a good society and my grandchildren are going to grow up in this town. I am just honored to be here.