The Town of Islip will divide into council districts to settle a federal lawsuit in which minority residents sought representation on the town board, which is lacking under the current at-large system.
The plaintiffs argued that the town’s largely minority communities of Brentwood, Central Islip, and Bay Shore do not have a voice on the town council, which is comprised of white Republicans who live in the town’s wealthier waterfront communities. If the five town council members were designated to represent specific communities instead of sharing responsibility for all 333,758 town residents, the local lawmakers would be more responsive to the constituents, the plaintiffs said.
“Our community will finally have representation in our town — someone who looks like us and knows what it is like to be a Latino in Islip,” said Ana Flores, the lead plaintiff and a member of the nonprofit advocacy group New York Communities For Change. “I feel that my community and I will at long last have a voice in this town. For too long we have been made to feel invisible by the town.”
The use of council districts, known as the ward system, is used by three of the 13 towns on Long Island—Hempstead, North Hempstead, and Brookhaven.
Under the settlement, two seats up for election in 2021 will be for two districts, including one that will cover Brentwood, which is mostly Latino. Candidates for the other two districts will be on ballots in 2023. Council members will continue to serve staggered four-year terms.
“Justice is being served, and the cry to all of Islip is that change for the better has come, and the voting rights of the Latino community in Islip will no longer continue to be denied,” said Frederick Brewington, the Hempstead-based civil rights attorney who tried the case. “This is a monumental change.”