Voters Vote to Adopt Council Districts
a close 51.1% to 48.9 election, the voters of the town of Brookhaven
have chosen direct, district-based representation over the outdated
a decade of work by the Neighborhood Network and partners such
as ABCO (Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations), and other
citizens organizations, and after seemingly endless roadblocks
and delaying techniques from the Brookhaven Town Board, the residents
of Brookhaven finally had the opportunity to choose between electing
Town Council members by districts, or a "at large."
In a close vote, the voters chose to make their Town Board members
elected by, and accountable to particular communities.
Districts, also called the "ward" system will bring
town board members closer to citizens.
the basic principles of representative democracy is that the closer
an elected officials is to constituents, the better they will
be represented. Unfortunately, most people in Brookhaven are more
likely to know their County Legislator, State Assemblyperson,
or even their State Senator, than any of their Town Board members.
This is due, in large part, to the "at large" method
of electing the Town Board. Rather than each board member representing
his or her neighbors in a specific district, all are elected town-wide.
The result has been corruption scandals, overdevelopment, congested
roads, and unresponsive town government.
Your Elected Officials Represent
Town Board member elected "at large"
Town Board member if elected by districts
vast size means that your vote carries less weight in town-wide
elections. Your individual vote means more to your Suffolk
County Legislator, New York State Assemblyperson, and even
your New York State Senator than it does to any of the Brookhaven
Town Board Members.
Voting by districts will not increase the number of board
members or the size of town government. Council Districts
will not require the Town to provide district offices
for council members. No town in New York State that has
adopted Council Districts pays for district offices.
Council Districts will make it possible for community
leaders and true citizen candidates to challenge party-machine
politicians, and it will ensure that you and your community
have a board member who is directly responsible to you.
Residents --Will Now Have Directly Accountable Representation
on the Town Board!
the Newsday articles below, for more details.
Say Yes To Districting
Referendum to create districts in Brookhaven narrowly passes
Newsday; Long Island, N.Y.; Jan 23, 2002; Ann Givens. STAFF WRITER;
In a squeaker of an election, Brookhaven residents yesterday
approved a measure that will divide their town into six voting
With all voting districts counted, the vote to approve council
districts led 51.12 percent to 48.88 percent, or 17,656 votes
to 16,881. The results of the election will not be final until
votes are recounted, along with absentee ballots, sometime next
If the vote holds, beginning in November 2003, each resident
will vote for only two town board members - the supervisor and
the member to represent his or her neighborhood.
The results could affect the Republican Party's two-decades-long
grip on town government.
"The people spoke out today at the polls," said Lori
Baldassere, one of the leaders of the pro-district campaign. "They
want their own voice and their own representative."
Brookhaven Supervisor John Jay LaValle said he will accept the
election results despite the close numbers.
"I'm disappointed because I'm concerned about the effect
this will have on the community," he said. "But I'm
here to work for the residents, and this is the choice they made,
and I'm ready to move ahead."
Council district supporters said the 13.84 percent turnout, which
was greater than expected, was a tribute to residents' enthusiasm
for the issue.
"I think there was a lot of hope and optimism that this
would be a good change," said Suffolk Legis. Vivian Fisher
Proponents of the existing at-large system said council districts
will be divisive, causing council members to put the good of their
own constituents above the good of the town.
They also have said that council districts will be expensive
because council members are likely to want field offices before
long. The pro-district camp strongly disputes this claim, saying
none of the 11 towns in New York that have council districts have
established field offices.
The debate over council districts goes back 30 years in Brookhaven.
In 1972, residents voted to approve council districts, but the
vote was overturned on a technicality. When the vote was retaken
a year later, the at- large system prevailed.
Even this election was a long time coming, with Brookhaven Town
Board members objecting to the referendum until a State Supreme
Court Appellate Division panel ruled in November that town law
could not block a public vote.
Both sides pulled out all the stops to win, spending upwards
of $150,000 each to fill local mailboxes and air waves with campaign
Other Long Island towns, including Southampton, Babylon and Oyster
Bay, have voted on council districts before, but the measures
have failed. The only Long Island town that has council districts
is Hempstead, where a judge ordered that districts be formed on
the grounds that the at-large system discriminated against racial
It has been years since there has been so much at stake in a
Brook- haven election.
Since the 1970s, Republicans have had unfettered control of the
town board. Experts say this is in large part because of the town's
at-large voting system, which makes it nearly impossible for a
minority party candidate to generate the money and name recognition
to run an effective townwide campaign.
Candidates will now have to run in 70,000-person districts rather
than at-large in the 430,000-person town. This would give minority
party candidates a better shot at winning, experts said.
Caption: Newsday Photo/David L. Pokress - A Brookhaven resident
prepares to cast his ballot on the council districting referendum
yesterday at the Wenonah School in Lake Grove.
Newsday Inc., 2002)
Brookhaven, What's Next?
Newsday; Long Island, N.Y.; Jan 24, 2002; Ann Givens. STAFF WRITER;
"Today in Brookhaven the world has changed," Chris O'Connor,
of the Long Island Neighborhood Network, said at a town hall rally
yesterday. "We have council districts, and that is the political
Proponents of councilmanic districts see their victory in Brookhaven
as a sign of what's possible in other towns. O'Connor said his
group will next turn its attention to North Hempstead Town, where
a similar proposal is being considered.
Newsday Photo/David L. Pokress - SUNY Stony Brook political science
professor Howard Scarrow, left, and Camille Johnson hug yesterday
in celebration of their victory for council districts in Brookhaven.
(Copyright Newsday Inc., 2002)
Even as they fought
what would become the most effective political campaign against
Brookhaven's Republican establishment in years, many council district
advocates said yesterday they did not truly believe they would
Thus, the day after
a special election in which a referendum to establish voting districts
passed by a slim but seemingly solid margin, ward system advocates
had one question on their minds: What now?
"Today in Brookhaven
the world has changed," Chris O'Connor, of the Long Island
Neighborhood Network, said at a town hall rally yesterday. "We
have council districts, and that is the political reality."
It was a day for which
council district advocates in Brookhaven had worked for years.
They first passed a
council district referendum back in 1972, but the vote was later
overturned. Efforts to get the measure back on the ballot took
decades, and were not successful until a few months ago when a
State Supreme Court appellate panel ruled a town law blocking
a public vote was invalid.
"I was not very
optimistic," said council district proponent Regina Seltzer,
a former Democratic town board member. "I was convinced that
the Republicans would pull out all the stops and we wouldn't have
the necessary funding."
From the outset, council
district advocates framed their fight as a grassroots campaign
against the town's Republican machine. "The goal was to bring
people together to build a better government," said local
activist Connie Kepert.
But so much was at
stake on both sides of the issue that the battle quickly grew
bigger than that. Both camps raised upward of $150,000 to pay
for slick radio ads and mailers. Each accused the other of taking
potshots and, in some cases, telling lies.
were divided about the reasons for the loss of the at-large system
at the polls. Supervisor John Jay LaValle said he thought residents
may have been looking for a change because of past scandals in
"The success of
the initiative was based on 30 years of the town's sporadic history,"
LaValle said. He added that with only about 13 percent voter turnout
and the tight margin, the results were "not a decisive win."
Republican town board
member Edward Hennessey said he thought the at-large camp lost
because the party's most loyal supporters are accustomed to going
out on general elections. "Our core loyal supporters come
on the first Tuesday in November," he said. "This was
a special election at a very odd time."
The next step will
be a recount of the votes, including absentee and military ballots,
at the Suffolk Board of Elections, and certification is expected
late next week. But despite the extremely close numbers (pro-district
folks won a mere 2 percent) neither side expects the results to
In the long term, both
sides expect the political jockeying to continue, first as the
district lines are drawn by the county's two election commissioners,
one a Republican and one a Democrat, and later as the leadership
for both parties position themselves within those districts for
a November 2003 campaign.
Proponents of councilmanic
districts see their victory in Brookhaven as a sign of what's
possible in other towns. O'Connor said his group will next turn
its attention to North Hempstead Town, where a similar proposal
is being considered.
North Hempstead Supervisor
May Newburger, a Democrat with no Republicans on the town board,
said she continues to favor councilmanic districts in her town,
despite criticism that it has taken too long to implement them.
"I think what
is important is how you design the districts, so that there is
enough balance and no one portion of the community overwhelms
the system," Newburger said yesterday.
In Brookhaven, for
now, the campaign's war of words is behind them, and both sides
are promising bipartisanship.
would be to make the new structure of government as effective
if not more effective than the current structure," LaValle
said. "It's a monumental challenge but I am ready for it."
writer Vctor Manuel Ramos contributed to this story.