Redistricting plan approved

Published 10:34 pm Friday, June 8, 2012

The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday issued pre-clearance to the city of Suffolk’s proposed redistricting plan.

The decision clears the way for local elections to move forward as scheduled in November. The approval comes only four days before the Tuesday filing deadline for candidates for mayor, and three seats each on City Council and School Board.

In a one-page letter addressed to former city attorney Edward Roettger Jr., a Justice Department representative wrote, “The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified changes.”

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The letter is dated Friday. It goes on to say that pre-clearance does not prohibit lawsuits to prevent the changes from taking place, though it gives no indication whether any such litigation is anticipated.

The redistricting plan for City Council and School Board seats makes changes to the boundaries of boroughs and changes and adds voting precincts and polling places.

The plan eliminates a City Council incumbent and two School Board incumbents. The unseated City Council incumbent, Leroy Bennett, and one of the unseated School Board incumbents, Thelma Hinton, are black. Diane Foster, the other School Board incumbent drawn out of her district, is white.

It drew criticism from individuals and groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, with accusations of intentionally trying to dilute the black vote. A response filed by the city asserted that black voters still are able to elect a candidate of choice in four boroughs.

Elected officials reached on Friday afternoon — even one of the jilted incumbents — said they were just glad a decision was finally made.

“I’m glad that the map is over with,” Hinton said. “I truly am. I can look back and say I’ve done a wonderful job.”

Hinton added she hopes to see “another African-American that can take my seat.”

Bennett and Foster did not return calls seeking comment.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson said she was pleased with the decision.

“I believe that our plan was done properly, and I’m pleased that they’ve come to that conclusion,” she said. “I’m just ready to move forward.”

Councilman Mike Duman said he is relieved the process is in the past.

“I’m just glad it’s resolved,” he said. “It’s like a lot of things. You have to have some type of resolution and closure.”

NAACP Nansemond-Suffolk branch President Lue Ward said he had no comment on the decision.