The new southern border of Legislative District One, which would include Flanders, Riverside, Northampton, Speonk-Remsenburg part of Westhampton and new areas of eastern Brookhaven. Map: Suffolk County GIS

Residents of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton will find themselves in a new county legislative district next year, if a redistricting plan being advanced by the legislature’s current majority caucus wins final approval.

The redistricting plan would move the hamlets in the northwest corner of Southampton Town from Legislative District Two to Legislative District One. LD-02 currently encompasses the entire Town of Southampton, as well as the towns of East Hampton and Shelter Island, and a slice of eastern Brookhaven Town south of the Peconic River. LD-01 currently encompasses all of the towns of Southold and Riverhead and portions of eastern Brookhaven (Ridge, Upton, Manorville, parts of Calverton.)

The Suffolk County Charter requires the county’s 18 legislative districts to be reapportioned after a decennial census indicates that the districts do not contain “substantially equal population.” The charter required the county legislature to adopt a redistricting plan by Feb. 1.

“The population of Southampton Town grew by 25,000 people since the last census,” First District Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said in an interview last week. “They have to shrink LD2. You can only have more or less 85,000 people,” he said.

“It’s tough for me because our our population has increased so much,” Second District Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) said in an interview today. This district has to lose a significant number. The eastern boundary is the Atlantic Ocean,” she said.

The proposed change “makes sense,” Fleming said. Flanders and Riverside are advocating with neighbors who are most closely aligned with their concerns,” she explained.

Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association president Brad Bender said today he was surprised to learn of the proposed change.

“This is the first I’ve heard about this,” Bender said. Residents of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton area have long complained of not receiving their due share of attention from Southampton Town government. Bender wondered aloud whether losing representation on the county level by the legislator who represents the rest of Southampton Town would worsen the area’s status as “the stepchild that nobody really cares about.”

“What else are you going to do to limit our representation? This really puts us between a rock and a hard place,” Bender said.

He said he was “baffled” that he hadn’t heard from either Fleming or Krupski about the plan, which was the subject of a public hearing before the county legislature Dec. 7.

FRNCA’s immediate past president Vince Taldone, who stepped down from the post due to an impending move out of the region, said today he had not heard anything about the redistricting plan either. Taldone said it might not be a bad thing for the hamlets on the south side of the river. “It could have advantages,” he said. “Flanders and Riverside and downtown Riverhead are one community,” Taldone said.

“But to not tell us…I can’t understand that.”

Fleming said the failure to notify FRNCA was not intentional.

The legislative reapportionment commission wasn’t “timely constituted” and the legislature “had to quickly pivot to this approach,” she said. “We were trying to understand what the implications are and it just moved very fast,” Fleming said.

The South Fork legislator was referring to circumstances that gave rise to a lawsuit challenging the legislature’s redistricting plan and a very contentious public hearing on the plan last week.

Bitter fight over county redistricting process lands in court

The county charter requires the establishment of an eight-member reapportionment commission within 90 days of publication of the decennial census results. It spells out the qualifications of the members of the commission and the types of members to be appointed, all of whom are to be appointed by the majority and minority leaders of the legislature.

The charter also sets a deadline of Feb. 1 (in the calendar year following the release of census results) for the commission to propose a redistricting plan to the county legislature. It requires the legislature to vote on a local law to adopt the plan within 90 days after the commission files its plan with the clerk of the legislature.

The charter spells out rules of procedure for the commission, including a requirement for the commission to hold at least four public hearings — two before devising a plan and two after publication of its proposal. It spells out a procedure for the revision of the commission’s proposal, and a procedure for redistricting should the commission fail to submit a plan to the legislature by Feb. 1.

If the commission fails to file a redistricting proposal by Feb. 1, the charter requires the legislature shall adopt a redistricting plan by June 1 or within 120 days after the state adopts a plan to reapportion State Senate and State Assembly districts, whichever date is later.

But the charter is silent about what happens if a commission is not established within 90 days after publication of the census results — or not established at all. And that’s the situation in Suffolk County today, with Democrats and Republicans divided over what happens next.

The U.S. Census Bureau released 2020 redistricting data on Aug. 12, but the redistricting commission was not established before the 90 day deadline as required by the charter, as neither the majority nor minority leaders appointed members before the deadline.

The legislature’s outgoing Democratic majority, which will hold the reins of power until Dec. 31, is attempting to get a redistricting plan adopted by the legislature and signed into law before the end of the year.

A few days after the 90-day deadline passed, Presiding Officer Rob Calarco introduced a local law to adopt a reapportionment plan. The “legislative intent” section of the proposed law states that the county legislature is empowered by the charter to adopt a redistricting plan and notes the expiration of the 90-day deadline for the majority and minority leaders of the legislature to appoint the reapportionment commission.

It says the legislature’s plan “conforms with all constitutional and statutory requirements.”

The legislature set a Dec. 7 public hearing on the plan.

Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey at some point between Nov. 10 and Dec. 6 made his four appointments to the commission.

“There’s nothing in the county charter that says that that 90-day deadline is a fatal error, which means that you cannot move forward,” McCaffrey said last week. He called the 90-day deadline a “technicality” and said Feb. 1 is the “hard and fast date.”

McCaffrey, joined by two of his commission appointees and a voter,
filed a lawsuit on Dec. 7 seeking, initially, a restraining order to prevent the redistricting hearing from taking place, as well as a permanent injunction against proceeding on the majority caucus’ redistricting plan and a court order requiring Majority Leader Susan Berland to appoint four members to the commission.

State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Santorelli granted the temporary restraining order and set a Dec. 16 date for the parties to appear in court.

The defendants named in the suit — the presiding officer, majority leader and the legislature — appealed the order and that afternoon, an Appellate Division judge lifted the restraining order.

The ruling allowed the legislature to move forward with the public hearing on the redistricting plan — after Calarco recessed the meeting for about an hour, in anticipation of a ruling at the Appellate Division.

It was a very contentious proceeding. McCaffrey and other members of the Republican caucus argued that the legislature’s redistricting plan was little more than a power grab by the Democratic majority on its way out the door.

In the Nov. 2 election, Republicans unseated the presiding officer, and the majority leader and won an open seat vacated by a Democrat. Democratic incumbent Sara Anker, trailed her Republican challenger on election night but prevailed in absentee ballots. The final results were certified by the County Board of Elections last week. Republicans will have an 11-7 majority around the horseshoe.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) complained that Republican members had no input on the redistricting plan.

“In terms of drawing the maps, we had no input. Zero,” Trotta said.

“In two cases, there are sitting Republicans, come the first of the year, who will be in the same district. And that didn’t happen at all with the Democrats. So now there’s four Republicans are now going to be primarying each other,” Trotta said. “So that freed up other seats. So do you think that’s a fair way to do things when we had no input?”

Trotta said he is one of four Republican legislators who will next year find himself in a district where another sitting Republican resides. The redistricting plan changes the lines of LD-13, which Trotta represents, and LD-16, where Republican Manuel Esteban Sr. defeated the majority leader, Berland, so that a portion of LD-16 is now part of LD-13. The way the lines of LD-10 and LD-11 were drawn also to leave two sitting Republican legislators, incumbent Legislator Steve Flotteron and newly elected Republican Trish Bergin-Weichbrodt in the same district.

“Now, if that’s not partisan politics, I don’t know what is,” Trotta said. “I couldn’t think of anything more partisan than that.”

The proposed redistricting plan drew praise from a number of residents who spoke at the public hearing, while others expressed concern about potentially diminished impacts on their community’s voice in county government, due to proposed lines that split areas now in the same legislative district. Others criticized the process as a partisan move by Democrats. Still others said they had not gotten advance notice of the meeting and would have liked to have input in the process prior to a plan being drawn. Others complained that the maps available to the public were not detailed enough to see the location of specific streets.

The county has since provided a public link to an interactive reapportionment map showing the existing legislative district lines and the proposed lines.

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