Ramapo leaders call for investigation over ward system

Posted on 29 September 2014 by Josh Fallik

Four minority leaders in Ramapo call for federal investigation over the proposed ward system, charging that the system would undermine minority representation on the Town Board.

Akiko Matsuda, amatsuda@lohud.com 12:15 p.m. EDT September 24, 2014

The debate over the proposed ward system reached the next level this week as four local minority leaders called for intervention from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ramapo6Town Board member Brendel Charles wrote to two assistant attorneys general with the agency, requesting an immediate meeting with them to discuss the Sept. 30 referendums that can change the size and makeup of the board.

The first of the two propositions in the special election is to ask voters whether to increase the number of Town Board members from four to six.

The second is to ask voters whether to separate the town into geographical districts — or “wards” — and elect a Town Board member from each district. Currently, four Town Board members are elected at large and don’t represent specific areas of the town.

Charles, the daughter of an African-American mother and a Cuban father, is the lone minority member on the board. She said the proposed system would use “unconstitutional methods of ‘packing’ and minority vote dilution,” and potentially undermine minority representation that has been maintained on the board since 1965.

The U.S. Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Spring Valley Trustee Anthony Leon, former Ramapo Town Board member Fran Hunter and former Hillburn village Mayor Bernard Jackson also signed the letter.

Charles said that at the special election, voters will be asked to decide on something they are not exactly sure about because they won’t know where the district lines would be drawn.

“I’m fighting for the minority, especially in the eastern portion of the town,” Charles said. “I want to make sure that there is representation, and I don’t know if in fact the ward system is going to do that.”

Local activist Michael Parietti and Robert Romanowski filed petitions to force the town to hold the referendums. Parietti said he disagreed with Charles’ letter, arguing that under the current system African-Americans don’t get their fair share of representation, and the ward system can change it.

“We would love to have the Attorney General and the Department of Justice involved in drawing the boundaries of the wards to make sure that they are drawn fairly,” Parietti said.

Earlier this week, Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish policy organization based in Manhattan, also issued a statement urging a “no” vote in the upcoming referendums, saying the “unstated goal of the referendum is to weaken the political influence of Orthodox Jews in the town.”

Supporters of the change say the new system would better represent the needs of Ramapo’s diverse populations.

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