Dozens of local residents turned out Tuesday, Aug. 2, at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai to voice their concerns about proposed redistricting plans for Brookhaven City Council.
The meeting was called by Brookhaven’s redistricting committee, which recently brought public attention to proposed maps that suggest significant changes to council’s Districts 1 and 2. In an effort to clear up any confusion surrounding two existing maps circulating on the city’s website, members of the committee held their own deliberations on this issue.
“These maps, to me, don’t seem sensitive to what communities are and what communities can achieve when they work together.”
George Hoffman, a Setauket resident and member of the redistricting committee, questioned the legitimacy of the map projects. Under these proposed boundaries, Council Districts 1 and 2 would see significant changes, as half of Port Jefferson/Terryville Station would be swapped for half of Mount Sinai.
During the meeting, the committee announced that they had not yet met with the cartographer or had a discussion about the maps. To clear up the confusion, the board voted unanimously to designate the existing maps as unofficial.
“We don’t have any official maps in front of us,” Hoffman said. “Each card submitted, either by our lawyer or by the public, will be given equal weight.”
Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), who currently represents the council’s District 1, said the intended purpose of redistricting is to rebalance the council’s districts based on population changes. Because his district doesn’t need to adapt to the people, he said he was “mystified” when he saw the draft proposals.
“It’s just very disappointing to me to see a map like this being created because I think people have a growing sense of cynicism towards their government,” the council member said. “There is a feeling that the government is responding more to its own needs than to the needs of residents, and these maps, to me, do not seem sensitive to what communities are and what communities can achieve when they work together.
Leaders representing various community organizations addressed the committee during the public hearing.
Joan Nickeson, Terryville resident and community liaison for Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed maps would divide the community if approved.
“Proposals that have been put forward that belong to your mapmaker that you haven’t met yet cut our advocacy power with the chamber,” Nickeson said. “They separate buildings in our school district from other buildings in the school district, neighbors from neighbors.” She added: ‘It is unacceptable that these cards are made public without the public being able to determine where they came from.
Salvatore Pitti, vice president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, said the proposed redistricting plan for council districts 1 and 2 was absurd. According to him, the plans undermine years of close coordination between the civic association and its representative on the city council.
“It’s taken us years to get to where we are, and now we’re going to start from scratch,” he said. Referring to the map projects, he added: “It makes no sense. This does not work for our community.
Francis Gibbons, Terryville resident and member of the PJS/Terryville Civic Association, shared how residents of Port Jefferson Station and Terryville have coordinated their efforts in service to the community as a whole.
“We have people who have worked together for years to make our communities whole,” he said. “And you think tearing them up is a good thing?”
Port Jefferson Station resident and PJSTCA member Ira Castell called Port Jefferson/Terryville Station a community of interest with longstanding ties to the council’s District 1.
“It is one of the organizing principles of any redistricting effort to avoid fissuring and to unite and retain communities of interest,” he said. “A community of interest is a neighborhood, community, or group of people who have common political concerns and who would benefit from being kept in a single district.” He added: “By segmenting our community, we will no longer have a united voice to move our story forward with one councilor who represents all of my neighbors, with whom I share a common goal.”
“Our community does not want to be divided.”
Nancy Marr, president of the Suffolk County League of Women Voters, reiterated those objections. “People who share a common history and are bound by common institutions such as community libraries or civic associations should be in the same municipal district,” she said.
In his opposition to the proposed maps, Brad Arrington, vice president and corresponding secretary of the Mount Sinai Civic Association, argued for the preservation of Mount Sinai as a contiguous community.
“Our community doesn’t want to be divided,” he said. “Mount Sinai is a community of interest. It is a unified community. And having been part of the civic association for 17 years, I can say that we are a very cohesive community.
The redistricting process is still ongoing. The next meeting will be Friday, August 5 at 6 p.m. at the Setauket Neighborhood House, 95 Main St., East Setauket.