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Suffolk Closeup: Salamanders in the County, Part II

The plan by the Democratic majorities in the New York State Legislature for redistricting Congressional Districts is, as stated here last week, an extreme case of gerrymandering.

It illustrates what that word is about. The “gerry” is for Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry and how redistricting was done under him in 1812. The “mander” is for salamander — what the configuration of one Massachusetts Senate district looked like.

Consider what has been done in the Democratic plan to the lst Congressional District, which includes Shelter Island. I’ve covered lst C.D. politics since I started as a journalist in Suffolk in 1962. The district has long consisted of the five East End towns, all of Brookhaven Town and most of Smithtown.

“Preservation of communities of interest,” is important when it comes to redistricting, which is done to reflect population changes after the national census every decade.

“Redistricting Criteria,” a publication of the National Conference of State Legislatures, says “traditional districting principles or criteria” include “preservation of communities of interest.” The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law defines communities of interest as reflecting “groups of individuals who are likely to have similar legislative concerns, and who might benefit from cohesive representation.”

It says states across the nation consider this “in drawing district lines.” The provision is included in some state constitutions, and in other states is among the “guidelines by the bodies conducting redistricting.”

There has been a relatively easy fit in the lst CD. The East End towns are semi-rural. Much of Brookhaven Town and Smithtown are country-like. Both Democrats and GOPers have represented the district.

But now, in the Democratic push to load the lst C.D. with areas solid with Democratic voters, the lst C.D. would change. All five East End towns would stay in it, other than GOP-leaning areas in southwestern Southampton Town. Shelter Island would remain intact.

Then the lst C.D. would take in only the northern half of Brookhaven, which includes plenty of Democrats connected to Stony Brook University. The southern half of the town with its many Republican-voting communities is out.

Smithtown is cherry-picked and would include Democratic-inclined Commack.

The district would then extend west into the Town of Islip and pull in heavily Democratic Brentwood, Central Islip and North Bay Shore. Further west, it would take in the northern portion of Babylon Town, which votes reliably Democrat, and a southern part of the Town of Huntington including Democratic-voting Dix Hills.

Going farther west, the lst C.D. would take in the Democratic bastions of Plainview and Bethpage — in Nassau County.

With due respect to Plainview and Bethpage, how do they constitute “communities of interest” with Shelter Island or New Suffolk or Greenport or Fishers Island or Setauket or Wading River or Montauk?

Also, with the reconfiguring of the lst C.D., Suffolk County would for the first time in decades not have a Congressional district consisting of only Suffolk.

What will be done to the GOP areas cut out of the lst C.D.? Most will be moved into the 2nd C.D made up of the Republican-voting southern portions of the Towns of Islip and Babylon and southern Nassau, all apparently being written off as a lost Democratic cause.

The gerrymandering in the Democratic plan also applies to the 3rd C.D., still based in Huntington and northern Nassau and Queens, but under the plan it would be extended up to Democratic Bronx and east into Westchester County on the other side of the Long Island Sound.

The gerrymandering is seen as greatly assisting Democratic chances in the lst and 3rd C.D.s. In 2020, Donald Trump won by 4% in the lst C.D. The remapping of the lst C.D. is projected as allowing the Democratic candidate for president in 2024 to win the district by 11%. Also, in the coming midterm election, it offers a House seat with good “pick-up” potential.

Why have Democrats gone to such redistricting lengths this year? First, with overwhelming majorities in the State Assembly and Senate, they could. And Democratic leadership after the Jan. 6 insurrection wanted Trump ally Lee Zeldin out of the House.

Indeed, the redistricting eliminates Shirley, where Zeldin lives, from the lst C.D. Before the new lines were drawn, however, he decided to leave the House anyway to run for governor.

A new podcast interview with Karl Grossman can be found under Conversation at shelterislandreporter.timesreview.com.