Few attend redistricting meetings

Published 7:36 pm Friday, August 26, 2011

Residents who spoke at the first wave of public meetings on the redistricting voiced concerns about the racial composition of the proposed boroughs.

This week, the first community meetings to get public feedback on the city’s redistricting proposal were held in the Chuckatuck and Holy Neck boroughs. Both meetings were lightly attended by the public, with fewer than five speakers at each location.

Suffolk City Councilmen Mike Duman and Charles Parr attended both meetings, and Councilman Leroy Bennett was present at the Chuckatuck gathering.


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Most of the speakers questioned the minority composition of the districts and the city’s methods used to draw the new lines.

Lue Ward, the president of the Nansemond-Suffolk chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he sees “too many red flags that affect the African-American community” in the proposed map.

Ward, who spoke at the Chuckatuck meeting held at King’s Fork High School, said about 500 of the 700 voters cut out of Chuckatuck are black.

“That’s a lot of votes,” he said. “You’ll take so many people out of that voting bracket. By deadlocking voters, they don’t have any power.”

Paul Gillis, a former NAACP president, spoke at both meetings and also voiced concerns about the same portion of Chuckatuck.

He said he was has never heard of the city using power lines to determine a borough’s boundaries as it did in dividing the Chuckatuck and Holy Neck boroughs, and he thinks the city’s intention is to cut certain voters out of the district that could re-elect current council members.

“They are doing it underhandedly,” Gillis said. “They are trying to gerrymander the people of Suffolk.”

At the Holy Neck meeting, Gillis said he doesn’t think the map meets the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“You cite legal requirements, but you don’t cite the Voting Rights Act as required to get this passed with the Justice Department,” he said. “Inasmuch as you drew two black council members into the same borough and a school member out of their districts, how does this apply with the Voting Rights Act?”

City chief of staff Sherry Hunt, who mediated both meetings, assured Gillis the map met all of the legal requirements, including those from the Voting Rights Act.

“It definitely does meet the legal requirements,” she said. “We have had legal working with us to ensure it met all of those requirements.”

NAACP Vice President Clinton Jenkins, who spoke at the Holy Neck meeting, said he is alarmed by uneven gaps between black and white populations in the proposed majority-minority districts.

He said in white majority boroughs, such as Holy Neck, the gaps between the two populations have widened while the spaces narrowed in the majority-minority districts like Cypress.

In response to Jenkins’ concerns, Hunt said his comments will be documented and presented to the City Council, but she added she was unable to address his concerns.

“We’re not here tonight to defend the map,” Hunt said. “The purpose of the community meetings is to solicit comments from the public.”

A public hearing is set for Oct. 5 to receive comment on the city plan. In addition, public information sessions are set for the following dates, times and places:

  • Cypress — East Suffolk Recreation Center, Sept. 6, 6 p.m.
  • Suffolk — Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, Sept. 8, 6 p.m.
  • Nansemond — Nansemond River High School, Sept. 13, 6 p.m.
  • Sleepy Hole — Creekside Recreational Center at Creekside Elementary School, Sept. 15, 6 p.m.
  • Whaleyville — Health & Human Services Building, Sept. 20, 6 p.m.