Actions by Democratic Supermajority Taint Redistricting Process

 

On the evening of May 9, 2011 the Westchester County Board of Legislators voted to approve a redistricting plan for the county’s 17 election districts.  The vote was 12-5 in favor of the plan.  The 12 ‘yes votes’ came from the democratic caucus supermajority and the 5 ‘no votes’ came from the Republican Caucus.  This was the final act for the Board of Legislators in a process that has been marred by partisan, political back room deal making and a lack of transparency.

The Republican caucus made the mistake of trusting the democratic leadership.  That trust was betrayed and unfortunately it is the taxpayers of Westchester County that will suffer for it.  Chairman Jenkins and his hand-picked consultant, Dr. Andrew Beveridge assured both the Board of Legislators and the public that the redistricting process would be transparent, fair and free of ‘gerrymandering’ and other political trickery.  At the end of the process it became clear that the hearings held by the Legislation Committee as well as multiple one on one discussions with the Chairman were nothing but a charade.  While we negotiated in good faith with Chairman Jenkins and his caucus they were merely going through the motions and the final plan reflected the self-serving changes that the supermajority intended all along.

The Democratic caucus claims that the process was open and that the concerns of the minority caucus were addressed.  In fact it was nearly impossible to ascertain what actual changes were being made because the consultant that was hired was unresponsive to our questions.  The maps, charts and tables that he was instructed to provide were consistently late, inadequate and inaccurate.  Dr. Beveridge’s lack of cooperation and preparedness even frustrated the Democratic Legislative Committee Chairman who chastised Beveridge for not providing the documents necessary to identify changes.  In a committee meeting less than a week before the Board was set to vote on redistricting, Democratic Legislator Bill Ryan complained that he could not tell what changes were being made because of the poor quality of Beveridge’s maps.

When individual members of the Republican caucus tried to engage the Chairman in substantive talks about our very real concerns we were stonewalled or given false assurances that our requests would be honored.  Those assurances were duplicitous, disingenuous and a form of subterfuge designed to keep the public and the minority caucus in the dark until while the lines were redrawn.

When asked pointedly about such changes as redistricting an announced candidate (who has run before) out of the district he intended to run in, the Democrats responded by saying that ten years ago something similar had happened to another candidate.  So that makes it right for them to do it today?

In another instance that is very telling, Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins confirmed the widely held belief that he did not live in the district he represents by drawing the new lines to include his home in his district.

Jenkins and Beveridge allowed the Democratic leadership of the City of Peekskill to draw new lines for their district that split Peekskill into two parts for the first time in history.  This was done to benefit Democratic candidates at both the city and county level.  Jenkins hid behind the excuse that this move was necessary to bring the district into compliance with the population deviation.  I asked the chairman if I could devise an alternative plan that lessened the impact on the City of Peekskill would he rescind the changes that split Peekskill.  He said he would but then reneged on that commitment when I submitted just such a plan.

Even the League of Women Voters of Westchester County who observed the process and had representatives at almost every single committee and Board of Legislators meeting have not endorsed the plan.  In fact the non-partisan organization has sought to distance themselves from the final redistricting plan saying, “The process has been extremely messy and aspects of it have been questionable.”  The League of Women Voters went on to say, “We understand the committee is working to meet a June deadline.  We do not believe however that this excuses the general sloppiness, if not partisan political nature of the proceedings.”

I urge the County Executive to veto the redistricting plan approved by the Democratic supermajority.  This effort was a poorly veiled ruse to take advantage of the imbalance of power on the Board of Legislators to ensure that they maintain their supermajority.

About John G. Testa

Former District 1 County Legislator, John G. Testa is served five terms at the Westchester County Board of Legislators, spending the last 3 terms as BOL Minority Leader. John G. Testa is a lifelong resident of Peekskill who first entered elected public service as a member of the Peekskill Common Council in 1998 and then served three terms as Mayor. He previously served on the Conservation and Parks Advisory Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. John became an elected official eager to improve the City in which his family has lived for more than a century and quickly earned a reputation as a strong, independent, nonpartisan voice for fiscal responsibility. John received a BS degree in Technology from SUNY Oswego, where his academic achievements gained him induction into Epsilon Pi Tau, the International Honorary Fraternity of Technology. He earned his MS degree in Technology from the City College of New York. He began his teaching career in 1980 at Peekskill High School, his alma mater, as an instructor in Technology and Social Studies, retiring in 2013 after 33 years teaching. John has been a leader in support for the Arts Community in Westchester. He presided over the construction of the Peekskill Art Lofts, the establishment of the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, and the complete restoration of the Paramount Center for the Arts, originally a 1930’s movie house and helped bring critical funding to many Westchester programs. Legislator Testa received the “Advancing the Arts in Westchester Award” by ArtsWestchester. John has a been a leader on environmental issues for two decades and has a long record of initiatives he has supported and spearheaded. His active involvement in developing and promoting environmentally friendly policies began as mayor and continued throughout his time as Westchester County Legislator. His efforts consistently earned John the endorsement of the NY League of Conservation Voters. John’s most recognizable accomplishment has been his promotion and preservation of local history and historic landmarks, bringing an unprecedented focus on the region’s rich history, and its legacy of historic Victorian architecture. His roots in historical preservation stem from his experience as a Revolutionary War re-enactor and member of The Brigade of the American Revolution for 50 years. John was instrumental in securing the preservation of the Lincoln Depot, now the Lincoln Depot Museum, where he now serves as President. The museum was recognized in 2015 as one of The Best Museums in Westchester. He also secured the preservation of historic Fort Hill as parkland, a 40-acre parcel that was originally a Revolutionary War encampment site. Under his leadership, the United States Dept. of the Interior declared Peekskill a “Preserve America Community.” John was able to establish a record number of National Register designations of local structures, including the first Downtown and Neighborhood Historic Districts and supported the preservation of the historic Miller House in North White Plains. In 2017 John was named a “Champion of History” by the Lincoln Society in Peekskill. John and his wife of 37 years, Nancy, live in Peekskill and have two adult children, John, Jr. (fiancé Courtney Kelly) and Katy (husband Mike Mearon). John and Nancy recently welcomed the arrival of their first grandchild, Lacey Mae, in 2019.
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