Redistricting could soon split the North Fork in the Assembly

GIANNA VOLPE FILE PHOTO | Assemblyman Fred Thiele speaking at a breast cancer awareness forum on Shelter Island in November.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) could become Southold and Shelter Island’s new representative in the State Assembly, if a redistricting proposal released today by the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment takes effect.

The redistricting, which could be in place by this November’s election, would change the boundaries of the First And Second Assembly Districts. The South Fork, Shelter Island and Southold would become the First District, which would be represented by Mr. Thiele, who currently represents the Second District, which is comprised only of the South Fork. First District Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) would see his new Second District start in Riverhead and head west.

If the proposal takes effect, Mr. Thiele would no longer represent the hamlets of Mastic, Mastic Beach, and Shirley.

A public hearing, which is required before the redistricting occurs, will take place at 11 a.m. on Feb. 9 in the auditorium of the William H. Rogers Legislative Building of the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge.

In a statement Thursday, Mr. Thiele said he would have preferred if the redistricting had been drawn by an independent and non-partisan committee, but he found the end results acceptable.

“This district includes as much of the East End in the same district as was constitutionally possible. Further, it avoids dividing the Tri-Hamlet Area (Mastic, Mastic Beach, and Shirley), which is currently the existing situation where I share the peninsula with two other Assembly members. My Assembly District had to be reduced in population under the State and U.S. Constitution. This district plan does that without dividing communities in my district to serve the political needs of those to the west.”

He said the redistricting was done because there were too many people in his district as it was formerly drawn.

Using figures from the 2010 U.S. Census, each Assembly District should include 129,089 residents. Mr. Thiele’s district was 13,744 residents over the average. The new district will have 128,929, 160 less than the average.

“Based upon enrollment numbers, the district is politically competitive and does not discriminate against any minority group. It unites communities of interest and does not divide villages,” Mr. Thiele added.

A map showing the redistricting proposal's impact on Long Island. Click to enlarge.

Mr. Losquadro said Thursday afternoon he was surprised that the redistricting committee didn’t see fit to keep the North Fork intact on its new maps.

“I really think that the North Fork and South Fork issues vary pretty significantly. There are far more primary homeowners on the North Fork. They also have a lot more agriculture on the North Fork than the South Fork.

Mr. Losquadro said he knew his district was going to change substantially when the census figures showed it had 149,700 people in it.

“I knew I’d be losing 21,000 constituents just to reach a parity with the other districts, but that could have been done in a way to keep the geographic areas contiguous.

Mr. Losquadro said that, while he’s enjoyed representing Shelter Island, he believes residents there could be represented by an assemblyman from either fork.

“It’s not like I don’t want to represent them,” he said. “It was a real honor for me to represent those areas.”

Southold Republican Party chairman Denis Noncarrow said he’s disappointed in the redistricting, which he believes is “a done deal” in Albany.

“The South Fork and the North Fork have different concerns,” he said. “There are battles that the North Fork had exclusively that we’re not going to have somebody fighting for.”

He said that those issues range from helicopter noise en route to the East Hampton Airport to issues that Mr. Losquadro is working on for Fishers Island, including training emergency responders and helping to provide access to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

“A lot of individual things are exclusive North Fork problems,” he said.

Mr. Losquadro said, even though the boundary lines have changed, he will continue to pressure the Federal Aviation Administration to change its recommended helicopter routes to alleviate the noise of helicopter traffic on the North Shore.

“We have an FAA which has just been lax, wanting and delinquent in finding a solution and implementing a solution to this problem,” he said. “The area I’m still representing will still be the area on the North Shore most impacted. I will still continue to keep my pressure up on the federal representatives and the FAA.”

Mr. Noncarrow said he doesn’t know Mr. Thiele well.

“Only time will tell. We’ll have to see how it goes. It was nice having someone who handled just the North Fork and its concerns,” he said, adding that, since Mr. Thiele is a member of the Independence Party, not a Democrat, he doesn’t see the redistricting as a concern for Southold Republicans.

Mr. Thiele, a lawyer by trade, is a former Southampton Town Supervisor and member of the Suffolk County Legislature. He was raised in Sag Harbor, where he graduated from Pierson High School before attending Southampton College. He received his law degree from Albany Law School and was admitted to the bar in New York State in 1980. He was elected to the State Assembly in 1995.

He was not immediately available for comment.

Mr. Thiele is most widely known as the architect of the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund, a land preservation program in the five East End towns that is funded through a 2 percent real estate transfer tax.

He has been actively involved in land preservation and transportation issues on the South Fork.

Mr. Thiele had served in the Assembly as a Republican until he switched his party affiliation to the Independence Party in Oct. 2009, after briefly flirting with the idea of becoming a Democrat. He said at the time that his support of marriage equality put him at odds with Republican leadership. He was endorsed by the Democratic, Independence and Working Families parties in his 2010 re-election campaign.

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