Column: We’re stronger with the North and South forks united

03/01/2012 6:00 AM |

If there were any remaining doubts that Your Faithful Correspondent is seriously out of touch and out of step, let this be the proof: I think our state Assembly district should be redrawn to include the North and South forks and exclude voting precincts in Riverhead and Brookhaven towns.

This, of course, is contrary to the collective opinions of the current state assemblymen who represent the East End, past state Assembly members who have represented the East End and just about everyone else who has expressed an opinion on the subject since it was suggested by the state Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment — including the editors of Times/Review Newsgroup’s three community newspapers serving Southold, Shelter Island and Riverhead towns.

They (the editors) pretty much chuckled and patted me on the head when I suggested an editorial supporting the redistricting about a month ago. Instead, they ran a Feb. 2 opinion piece expressing concerns about redistricting based on, among other reservations, “… having our concerns come second to those of the larger, more affluent South Fork.”

Like I said, out of touch and out of step.

I fully appreciate the logistical difficulties a new North-South Assembly district would pose. Yes, it would be inconvenient and expensive for elderly residents to have to take two ferries to visit their state representative’s district office, but how expensive would it really be to have two district offices, one on each fork, with staggered office hours designed to accommodate local residents? An extra $6,000 to $10,000 a year? That’s chump change for the big spenders in Albany.

The best argument, of course, for returning to the good old days of the early 1980s, when Assemblyman John Behan of Montauk represented both forks in Albany, is that the North and South forks have far more in common, historically and potentially, than the East and West ends.

Times/Review’s editorial board notwithstanding, wouldn’t it be preferable to have our concerns come second to the South Fork than to the West End — with which we have so very little in common?

I could cite lots of examples here, but land preservation seems the most obvious. Whether you’re talking about County Executive John Klein’s innovative farmland preservation program or the phenomenally successful Community Preservation Fund, the East End has led the fight in Hauppauge and Albany to “save what’s left.”

Meanwhile, the people of Brookhaven and, yes, Riverhead have stood by passively while major chunks of their towns have been paved over with shopping malls and big box stores. (In fairness, Riverhead also has done its fair share in terms of farmland preservation. It’s the zoning that’s the problem.)

And even today, legislators from the West End argue against expending existing funds for land preservation. What more compelling argument exists for throwing in our lot with our neighbors to the south?

And if, as it appears, this new redistricting plan is dead in the water, then my fallback position finds me in agreement, as has often been the case over the years, with former state Assemblyman Joe Sawicki Jr. of Southold.

As recently reported in The Suffolk Times, “Ideally, he believes the five East End towns should become one district because they have the same concerns about most state matters, including farming, fishing and transportation.”

Said Mr. Sawicki at the time: “If we drew an Assembly district as a Peconic County, it would really give the East End its identity.”

Say amen, somebody.

tgustavson@timesreview.com

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