County Executive Astorino Vetoes “Flawed” Redictricting Plan

Yesterday, County Executive Robert Astorino vetoed the redistricting plan that was approved by the Board of Legislators last Monday. The 12 member Democratic supermajority on the board voted in favor of the plan, the 5 Republicans voted against it.  I have repeatedly called on the county executive to veto this deeply flawed partisan plan being forced on the citizens of Westchester. I am grateful that Rob Astorino rejected this clumsy attempt by my Democratic colleagues to protect their veto proof supermajority. Watch now, as the supermajority employ the same bullying tactics that they used to stonewall, delay and mislead us, the League of Women Voters and the public during the redistricting process, by overriding the County Executive’s veto.

In contradiction to claims that the redistricting process would be a fair and transparent one, the Democratic leadership and their hand-picked consultant rammed through a plan that was cooked up in back rooms and virtually ignored the concerns and requests of the Republican caucus and any input from the public.  I was told personally by Chairman Jenkins, that he would accept the adjustments that I requested be made to the plan for my district so as to prevent the City of Peekskill being divided between two legislative districts. It had never been done before because there is no legitimate reason for it to happen. It is bad policy and bad government. Ultimately Ken Jenkins did not honor his word and he did not make the changes that he said he would. As a result I can only conclude he purposely misled me.  That type if dishonest dealing is unacceptable but unfortunately not an isolated instance.

Even the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Westchester has distanced themselves from the plan saying, “The process has been extremely messy and aspects of it have been questionable.”  The LWV 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 have to accept the fact that when a 12-5 supermajority is in charge of redrawing the voting lines for the entire county, they will take some political advantage of that opportunity.  What I won’t accept is the Chairman’s claims that this was a fair and transparent process that addressed the concerns of all legislators.  The fact is the citizens of Westchester and the Republican caucus was ignored, misinformed and ultimately cut out of the process.

I thank the County Executive for responsibly vetoing this redistricting plan and we will all watch as the Democratic supermajority overrides the veto, ignoring the principals of fairness and taking advantage of this once in a decade opportunity.

Astorino’s Veto Message:

ASTORINO VETOES “FLAWED” AND “RUSHED” LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING PLAN

Agrees with League of Women Voters that Board of Legislators’ plan  was messy

Calling it “flawed” and “rushed,” County Executive Robert P. Astorino today vetoed the redistricting plan for county legislative districts approved last week by the Board of Legislators, noting that the League of Women Voters had also strongly expressed its concerns and dissatisfaction with the plan.  

“There are many reasons for my disapproval and veto of this local law,” said Astorino, “which vary from the flawed, closed-door, and rushed process to the unfortunate and unnecessary division of municipalities.”

He added, “The non-partisan League of Women Voters of Westchester in its statement at the public hearing was very clear in sharing some of these same concerns. It labeled the process ‘extremely messy’ with ‘aspects of it…questionable.’  The League also called for more transparency.”

The redistricting plan was approved 12-5 along party lines by the Democratic-controlled board on May 9.

The county executive said the board’s rushed process called into question the ability of the public to have real input.

“Your Honorable Board held the first meeting (at least the first meeting known to the public and the administration) on April 18,” Astorino said in his veto message. “Within 20 days, your Honorable Board voted on this local law, which will affect the county for the next 10 years. Such quick action calls into question the ability for true public input. Note, too, that this 20-day period was in the midst of important religious holidays and spring break, further diluting the availability for full public participation.”

Astorino said there is no legal requirement for the board to adopt a redistricting plan this year based on Census 2010; rather, it could have deliberated longer and adopted a plan for the 2013 election cycle. Taking more time over this important issue would have given the board a chance to focus on the new Census data, which was only released in April.

Aside from the process, the county executive complained of what he called “wholesale and unnecessary changes”  made to some legislative districts, including the splitting of the City of Peekskill “for no rational reason” into two districts and the Town of Harrison into three.

“It will create confusion among voters and elected officials as to who speaks for these communities on the Board of Legislators,” he said.

–30 —

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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