Judge Amy Puerto Says Decision On Gerrymandering Of Clarkstown’s Ward Map Expected March 17

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Clarkstown Councilmembers Frank Borelli and Patrick Carroll, Who Have Accused Town Supervisor George Hoehmann & Others Of Gerrymandering, Plan to Begin Collecting Signatures For Re-Election On Feb. 28

By Tina Traster

A Rockland County Supreme Court judge has given opposing sides in a legal dispute over the redrawing of Clarkstown’s voter map more time to file and reply to arguments.

After a brief conference in private in Judge Amy Puerto’s chambers on Monday, the Judge outlined a schedule for filings, and said she expected to have a decision on whether Clarkstown has adopted an illegal map on March 17th.

“That will give the rest of March and the first week of April to collect signatures,” the Judge said. Feb. 28 marks the first day for candidates running in 2023 to collect signatures for their petitions to run a campaign.

Kevin Conway, deputy town attorney who is defending the suit, said maps are redrawn all the time.

The scheduling of hearings and a target date of March 17th for an answer stands in contrast to the urgency which with the court has dealt with case of Clarkstown’s term limits. In that case, the court acted swiftly to set dates to make a determination on whether Clarkstown’s term limit law is or was always illegal, bearing in mind the the Feb. 28th deadline for signature collection on election petitions.

The Judge also struck down a request from Edmond J. Pryor, the attorney for plaintiffs Frank Borelli and Patrick Carroll, to keep the current and legal town districting map intact until a decision is made. The Judge denied the “stay”.

“I was surprised that the Judge did not stay the current map,” said Carroll, who added he’ll be knocking on doors to collect signatures beginning tomorrow.

Borelli, who said he and Carroll were funding the suit, said “I’m hopeful the Judge will see that the map was an obvious retaliation.”

Borelli too said he’s planning to start collecting signatures starting tomorrow for Ward 1.

The gerrymandered map pits the two incumbents against each other in the same ward. The 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.

Clarkstown Councilmen Borelli and Carroll, who filed the lawsuit to challenge the adoption of a newly drawn redistricting map believe Supervisor George Hoehmann gerrymandered the map in retaliation for the plaintiffs’ opposition to ending term limits.

The suit is asking the court to declare the newly adopted map “as invalid” and to restore the original map and to prevent the town from conducting elections under the newly drawn map. The plaintiffs are also demanding legal fees. The plaintiffs are being represented by attorney Stanley Kalmon Schlein of the Bronx.

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 suit alleges.

“This type of political gerrymandering is profoundly undemocratic and cuts deeply into the public confidence in their representative government,” the suit says.

The suit, filed in mid-February in Rockland County Supreme Court, names as defendants Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann, Councilmembers Don Franchino and Michael Graziano, along with Town Clerk Justin Sweet, the Town of Clarkstown Town Board, the Rockland County Board of Elections, the New York State Board of Elections, and Attorney General Letitia James.

Legal counsel from the Rockland County Board of Elections were present in Monday’s courtroom but said they had no position on the case. The Board has printed the newly adopted map.

The lawsuit alleges the map was drawn in retaliation over dissension concerning term limits. It claims the redistricting was unnecessary because the original districts were compliant with the law. It says the map is illegal because it “discourages competition” or was drawn “for the purposes of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.”

Further, it says the gerrymandering of the map undermines the African-American community in Central Nyack by splitting its population into two wards, “thereby resulting in a retrogression of the impact of this minority’s community vote.”

Kevin Conway, deputy town attorney who is defending the suit, said maps are redrawn all the time.

“I don’t think the plaintiffs have met the basis on an order to show cause,” said Conway. “The map meets the criteria of the state. It doesn’t disenfranchise anyone. The map was drawn blind. Nothing unusual here – maps are redrawn all the time.”