Civil Rights And The Town


In 1989 Ben Zwirn, a Democrat, was elected supervisor in our town. The town had been Republican controlled before that since the early 1900s. The town has been essentially Democratically controlled since 1989. With the development of North Hills in the 1980s the registration figures tilted in favor of Democrats and Independents as swing voters. Gradually the Democrats took over all four Council seats; the positions of town clerk and receiver of taxes.

In 2000, Peter I. Cavallaro was the Republican leader in North Hempstead and a trustee in the village. He is an attorney and now our highly regarded mayor. He and Francis X. Maroney, Esq. also a very able attorney with a distinguished record of public service as a former councilman and counsel to the legislature’s majority and former Republican leader, came to see me with a proposal to make me a member of the Town of North Hempstead Councilmattic Commission. Their goal was to create two additional council seats and, with the one seat the Republicans already had, this potentially would balance the voting among councilmembers if the Republicans could capture the two new councilseats. They made an appealing argument by catering to my interest in civil rights. Frank was especially endearing by saying to me “It has been your life’s work.” I made it clear that I would endeavor to support six council districts but one of them would have to be a minority district. To their credit, they agreed. I was appointed to the Councilmattic Commission.

Once I arrived, I quickly learned that I was in the minority. There was one other Republican, a former town councilman and the Chair of the Conservative Party. Observing that there was only one woman on the Commission and no African Americans, I advocated for the reconstitution of the Commission. Democrats did not favor increasing the number of council seats. Sharon Gianelli, now an outstanding Supreme Court Justice from Westbury and Rudy Clarke, a former Westbury School Board member and both African Americans, were added to the Commission. Sharon is a Democrat and Rudy, since deceased, was a Republican.

With the aid of Peter and Frank, we issued a minority report urging the establishment of six council districts. In a special referendum, the voters of North Hempstead approved the establishment of six districts, one of which became known as a “Minority District.” Councilwoman Viviana Russell occupies that seat, having just been re-elected to another term.

The establishment of six council seats was a historic event. The voters of North Hempstead who voted for six districts can be very proud. The minority voters throughout the town now have one of their own as a voice in Town Hall.

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Thomas F. Liotti is an attorney in Garden City and Village Justice in Westbury. He is also an adjunct professor of litigation in the legal studies department at Nassau Community College.

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