George Hoehmann

Clarkstown Adopts Redistricting Map Amid Controversy & Accusations Of Political Gerrymandering

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Redrawn District Pits Incumbent Councilmen Borelli and Carroll Against Each Other; Map Also Divides Racially Diverse Central Nyack

By Tina Traster

Cue up the John Wayne western music. The guns are cocked. The lines are drawn. We all know how this is going to end but we’re down for the two-hour-plus drama because somewhere in the corner of our minds we think life – or politics – will deliver a surprise.

It rarely does. It did not on Tuesday night in the Town of Clarkstown after Supervisor George Hoehmann, and Councilmembers Don Franchino and Michael Graziano voted to adopt a redistricting map that potentially topples the political careers of either Councilmen Frank Borelli or Pat Carroll.

The map presented to the town council for approval met all of the statutory requirements for redistricting, except one: Districts cannot be drawn to discourage competition, or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents. Drawing and approving a map that forces two incumbents into the same ward runs afoul of the law.

Students of local government knew exactly how the vote would pan out well in advance of the begging, pleading, admonishing, and explaining they were willing to invest to oppose the adoption of a redistricting map that will pit two incumbents against each other in the same ward, and alter New City and split off nearly 1,000 residents from Central Nyack into different wards. Nearly 100 residents packed the chamber to watch what is becoming an all too familiar dynamic – a council divided over term limits, embroiled in litigation, and maneuvering like the redistricting map that has the whiff of political ambition and possibly spite.

For many years, residents might come to Town Hall to express dismay over a particular issue and it would surprise no one when the council would unite and vote in lockstep. It is largely understood that an issue is not up for a vote unless the board members know exactly where everyone stands. And for many years, there’s been little division among the elected body.

That changed late last year when Borelli and Carroll split from Hoehmann and his two backers over the issue of term limits. Franchino agreed to join Hoehmann in a lawsuit to rid the town of term limits, as his eight-year tenure as Supervisor is sunsetting. Franchino has been a vocal opponent of term limits, saying he’s tired of running every two years. Graziano can be counted on to support Hoehmann’s leanings.

In a show of solidarity between Borelli, a Republican, and Carroll, a Democrat, the pair have fought against Hoehmann’s campaign for Clarkstown to divest itself of a law it passed in 2015 to impose eight year term limits on its public officials. The pair had hoped to hire outside counsel to defend the town but suffered the first legal blow when Rockland County Supreme Court Judge Amy Puerto last week gave Deputy Town Attorney Kevin Conway the green light to defend the town. The pair of councilmen have the right to be intervenors on the suit.

The proposed redistricting map — which the pair said came out of nowhere — was the one-two punch for Borelli and Carroll because the newly adopted map pushes Borelli into Carroll’s Ward 4 – leaving Ward 1 open for a new candidate but inevitably ending the political career of one of Hoehmann’s rivals. The councilmen noted that the town does not have to redistrict because the ward populations in the existing districts all fall within an allowable count under state law.

Every ten years, municipalities must divide the voting population within a 5 percent deviation. Each of Clarkstown’s wards, which together total a population of 86,912, must ideally have a population of 21,728, according to Skyline Consulting’s David Schaefer, who presented the map at the tumultuous town board meeting.

Districts cannot be drawn to discourage competition, or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents. Drawing and approving a map that forces two incumbents into the same ward runs afoul of the law.

The latest map, drawn by Skyline Consulting of Schenectady, extends Ward One to the north but it also shifts the boundary to the east. By doing so, it excises Borelli’s residence at 12 East Cavalry Drive in New City out of the ward and pushes him into Carroll’s territory or Ward Four. To take office, a council member must live in the ward that they represent.

The map also carves off a piece of Ward 3 in Central Nyack, pushing it into Ward 4. Central Nyack is Clarkstown’s most racially diverse community, and residents and activists from the hamlet said town officials never consulted them on this shift.

Schaefer spoke of a handful of criteria that triggers redistricting, emphasizing that districts must have nearly equal populations, districts should be compact and contiguous, there should be an attempt to leave hamlets and villages intact.

“We were given no input on the maps,” said Central Nyack organizer Cheryl Stroud, who said Central Nyack is a “mixed community. No one asked our opinion.”

Ann Trudell from the Central Nyack Civic Association echoed that sentiment.

“This hurts,” she said. “We have a good relationship with our councilman. This is a community of pride. No one approached us. I don’t like it.”

Additionally, Schaefer said “Districts cannot be drawn to discourage competition, or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents.”

“This is convoluted,” said resident Penny Leonard. “No one in Congers wants this. This is for you Supervisor. It’s underhanded, shameful. This is not Hoehmann town. This is Clarkstown.”

Borelli and Carroll emphasized the new map disfavors incumbents.

“All the maps comply with Municipal Home Rule,” said Borelli. “The only thing that’s changed after Jan. 4 is that myself and Pat Carroll dd not vote to remove term limits.”

There was widespread dissent against the adoption of the map – with many pointing out that the town did not need to redistrict at all but even if it did, there were four other viable options.

Only Lawrence Garvey, chairman of the Rockland County Republican Party, said “districts are redrawn all the time.” He told Carroll to “stop whining”, adding that he’ll have to go out and knock on doors if he wants to get re-elected.

Hoehmann made less than credible attempts to explain why a new map needed to be drawn, noting that residents don’t know who represents them and that they need to know who to call when they need their garbage collected.

The heated meeting included accusations of gerrymandering, power grabbing, and political retribution.

“Are you going to be real people and vote with your conscience on this issue?” asked resident Steve Gold. He told Hoehmann that in the past, he’d supported him because he believed he led with transparency. “This time you pulled the wool over our eyes. I’m very disappointed.”

What remains unclear is whether the 3-2 vote will remain valid because there is lingering uncertainty as to whether the newly drawn map was done so after Clarkstown’s contract with Skyline expired on Dec. 31st and whether it violates the law over interfering with incumbency.

Councilmembers Borelli and Carroll both said they plan to explore a legal challenge to Tuesday’s adoption of the map.

“The map passed by the town board is illegal,” said Carroll.