Lawsuit challenges Rockland voting districts, claims plan benefits officials, bloc vote

Michael Parietti speaking before the Rockland Legislature Photo/Peter Carr The Journal News

A Ramapo activist has filed a legal action to void the county’s legislative redistricting, contending the mapping enhances the electability for sitting legislators and further empowers the politically influential Hasidic Jewish community at the expense of other residents.

Michael Parietti, a Preserve Ramapo leader who has run for several offices, said legislators established boundaries for 17 districts that enhance their chances for reelection. The end result, Parietti’s lawsuit argues, is the legislative map divided the votes of people of color and communities with common interests, such as Nyack, Spring Valley, Nanuet and Pearl River.

Parietti’s 161-page legal action delves into the history of Rockland’s redistricting during the past two decades and dissects the 17 districts to bolster his claims that the adopted plan is unconstitutional. His legal action names County Executive Ed Day, the 17-member Legislature, and the Rockland Board of Elections. The county has until Dec. 20 to file legal papers with the judge in response to Parietti’s show-cause action.

Parietti’s lawsuit asks Supreme Court Judge Paul Marx to order a new map, prohibit elections under the approved plan, and order the county to provide Parietti with reasonable fees and costs.

“The redistricting process was flawed from the very beginning and produced a blatantly gerrymandered map whose primary purpose is once again to grant a disproportional share of political power to Hasidic leaders and protect their favored incumbents,” Parietti contends in his legal papers. “Everything else is secondary to that primary objective, which of course is a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act, the New York State Constitution, and New York Municipal Home Rule Law.”

Election districts: Rockland approves new election boundaries

Legislature adoption: Details of election boundaries

Day and Legislature Chairman Jay Hood, D-Haverstraw, an attorney, said the county has not been served with Parietti’s legal action and will not comment on a pending lawsuit.

Census 2020 sparks redistricting Parietti filed the show cause legal action on Friday with New York State Supreme Court in New City targeting the redistricting map adopted by the county Legislature on Nov. 1 and signed by Day on Nov. 22.

According to the 2020 census, the largest population growth of 22,000 people from 2010 to 2020 occurred in Ramapo, which has five legislators. The Orthodox Jewish communities were largely responsible for Ramapo’s population growth.

Census results showed Orangetown and Stony Point saw slight population declines, while Clarkstown and Haverstraw saw gains of 2,668 and 2,453, respectively. Each district must now contain approximately 19,918 people, based on the 2020 census, compared to about 18,000 people, based on the 2010 census. Ramapo neighborhoods were included in several bordering districts.

Legislators voted 13-1 to adopt the election map. Legislative leaders and Day said the districts were balanced, though they conceded no map is perfect and there would be critics.

Day said Monday that he is not prepared to comment on the specifics of Parietti’s legal action, but said the “issue is primarily a difference of opinion between the Rockland County Legislature and the litigants (Parietti)”

He said his administration spent 20 days reviewing the map and public comments and found “no disparate impact on minorities.” He said that “creating voting districts that cross town boundaries is sometimes necessary to preserve a sense of autonomy in areas with low populations that would otherwise result in the dissolution of identity and presence.“

“This is the beginning of a legal process and if the court differs with the map created by the county Legislature, I will support that ruling and its outcomes,” Day said.

The lone dissenter, Legislator Charles Falciglia, R-Ramapo, argued the map favors Democrats to maintain and potentially increase their majority.

Updated boundaries under fire

Critics oppose boundary changes that include splitting up Spring Valley and creating a district dominated by Orthodox Jewish voters in Ramapo’s southern tier of Chestnut Ridge and Airmont. The Orthodox and Hasidic community is among the fastest-growing communities across Rockland, fueling Ramapo’s population rise.

Wilbur Aldridge, the NAACP Mid-Hudson Valley regional director from Haverstraw, said the districts may look fair today, but demographics could change the population balance in five years and disadvantage voters.

Micheal Miller, the founder of CUPON-Rockland, a group opposed to overdevelopment, said the redistricting favors the “religious community” at the expense of minority communities.

Details of the map include:

  • Orangetown lost one of three self-contained legislative seat within the town, as the population decreased and more Ramapo territory was added to the one district.
  • Nanuet is more consolidated in the Clarkstown map, compared to being divided after the 2010 census.
  • Haverstraw village, with its large Hispanic population, remains unchanged.
  • Stony Point’s districts are combined with portions of Ramapo’s Hillburn.
  • Pomona village is locked as one district with Ramapo and Haverstraw.