The New York State Legislature has signed off on new assembly district lines that cut some of southeast Brookhaven out of the South Fork's district but adds Shelter Island, according to Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele.
An earlier iteration of the plan would have included less of Brookhaven in the new First District, and all of Southold Town. But Southold officials opposed sharing an assemblyman with the South Fork, worrying that North Fork interests would not be adequately represented in Albany. The state task force that drafted the new districts maps in response to the criticism, leaving each fork with its own representative.
The Riverhead/Southold district, currently the state's First District, will become the Second Assembly District under the new plans. Assemblyman Thiele, I-Sag Harbor, currently represents the Second Assembly District but — if he secures re-election in November — will represent the new First Assembly District, come 2013.
Assemblyman Dan Losquadro, R-Shoreham, who has represented the current First Assembly District for over a year now, said he was sad to lose Shelter Island but saw the change as the best way to keep good continuity in the district. Before the change, Losquadro represented 149,700 people — the largest assembly district in the state — between parts of Brookhaven, Riverhead, the North Fork, and Shelter Island. When the East End district split into two parts in the early 1980s, Shelter Island was always connected to the North Fork in the state assembly.
“It’s very bittersweet for me, but I knew I was going to lose 21,000 people somewhere,” he said. “Shelter Island has a very unique circumstance as an island within an island. As long as their representative takes the time to learn their issues, Shelter Island will be well represented, and I think Mr. Thiele will do a fine job.”
Supervisor James Dougherty agreed, saying that he's "delighted" with the change-up.
"With the ferry systems, we're a bit of a third category as far as districting goes," he said. "But Fred Thiele has always been a friend to Shelter Island in the county legislature and in the assembly, working hard on dredging and open space issues."
But Losquadro added he is also disappointed to lose constituents in Middle Island — a place he’s represented for almost a decade during his time as a county legislator and now as a state assemblyman.
“I consider many of those people friends, working with them over the years,” he said. “But I had to be pragmatic through this process. I’m not happy to lose any constituents, but I think in the grand scheme of the battle we waged to get these lines changed, this was the right decision.”
Both Thiele and Losquadro noted that the State Legislature also voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to create an independent, nonpartisan redistricting process for the future.
"It was disappointing that this year's process was not the product of such an independent process," Thiele is quoted as saying in a statement from his office. "However, the proposed constitutional amendment, if ultimately approved by the voters, will insure that all future redistricting plans are prepared by an independent, nonpartisan commission."
Losquadro pointed out that without Southold and Riverhead would have been split up in Assembly representation.
"If that message wasn't conveyed and the public wasn't able to make its voice heard, it never would have changed," he said. "The residents made very clear themselves that they did not want any part of being lumped in with the South Fork."
With reporting from Brendan O'Reilly and Joseph Pinciaro