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Orange lawmakers urged against redistricting plan

GOSHEN – Top officials of Orange County NAACP chapters and a leading civil rights attorney, on Wednesday, called for the Orange County Legislature not to approve its redistricting plan when it meets on Friday saying it is purposely designed to keep minority representation in the City of Newburgh to a minimum.

Civil rights attorney Michael Sussman said one legislative district in Newburgh would be 85 percent minorities while the adjacent one would have 55 percent. That, he claimed, protects the white incumbent legislator, Patrick Berardinelli, a Republican, from losing his seat.

“It’s very clear that if lines were moved between those two districts, you could easily create what would be viewed as safe minority districts,” Sussman said. “The Voting Rights Act requires that; it does not allow minority citizens to be treated in a way which dilutes their potential political expression. Our county needs a multiplicity of voices; Newburgh needs champions in the county legislature; our cities need champions in the county legislature.”

Middletown NAACP President James Rollins came up with a temporary solution.

“I strongly suggest in regard to this process that they forgo their proposal for this year and run on the existing lines in lieu of establishing a process that withstands scrutiny while adhering to both the mandate and spirit of the Voting Rights Act until next year,” Rollins said.

Richard Peterson, a retired African-American businessman in Newburgh, said redrawing equitable legislative lines “is not relevant just to minorities, but the greater community benefits from more inclusive representation.”

Also attending a meeting calling for proper representation was Newburgh-Highland Falls NAACP President Chester Johnson.