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.