Monday, June 21, 2010

Misreading Port Chester

Last Friday we had the misfortune to be listening to John Gambling rant about the Federal court's intervention in the Port Chester local election. What the judge did-and he did so with the cooperation of the village itself, was to mandate a weighted voting system in order to redress the lack of Latino representation in the town board. As the NY Times explained: "The balloting, which began with early voting on Tuesday and ends this coming Tuesday, inaugurates a new electoral system that is meant to give Port Chester’s large Latino population a better chance of electing one of its own to the village’s Board of Trustees. No one is sure whether the complicated new process, which emerged from a bitter and expensive legal battle, will have the desired effect — or plunge the community into a new round of litigation."

Well, it did-and the Times goes on to report the results: "This village in Westchester County has elected a Hispanic member to its board of trustees for the first time, capping a bitter legal battle over giving its large Latino population a stronger voice in local government. That member, Luis Marino, a Peruvian immigrant who ran as a Democrat, was among the victors Tuesday in the first local election since a federal judge ordered Port Chester to adopt a new voting system to give Latinos a better shot at electing one of their own to the six-member board."

This didn't sit well with Gambling who just would not shut up about the violation of the principle of one man, one vote-and without any effort to get someone on to explain the other side. Yesterday, the NY Post's Michael Goodwin picks up where Gambling left off-and sees the Port Chester scheme as some kind of boost for illegal aliens: "Under the plan, imposed by a federal judge in response to a 2006 Justice Department civil-rights suit, each voter in the board of trustees election got six votes. A voter could give all six votes to one candidate, or divide them among several. The reason: No Latinos had ever been elected to any of the six at-large seats in the suburban town, even though they make up nearly half of the population of 28,000. That's because many of the Latinos are here illegally, so they can't vote. No matter. The cockeyed voting system was put in place to satisfy a claim of discrimination based on their total numbers, as though immigration status has no consequence to election results."

What Gambling and Goodwin miss-and they miss because it doesn't fit within their immigrant narrative-is that Port Chester has an ugly history of anti-Hispanic actions; something we witnessed first hand a decade ago when we tried to save the Port Chester plastics factory owned by Murray Nadel. The racist sentiment was palpable in the village-and its downtown redevelopment scheme was designed to remove some very visible Latino presence through the use of eminent domain.

Ironically, their actions ultimately led to the taking of  Bart Didden's property (after Nadel through in the towel and sold his manufacturing facility to Mexican interests)-a decision that was upheld by, of all people, Sonya Sotomayor. But what goes around sometimes comes around, as the Times makes clear: "According to preliminary results provided by the mayor’s office, Mr. Marino, a volunteer firefighter who works in the maintenance department of the Scarsdale school system, received 1,962 votes, which put him in fourth place among 13 candidates on the ballot. The top vote-getter was Bart Didden, an independent, who had 2,576 votes."

But what the G&G boys miss is how sometimes an at large voting system does in fact discriminate-and they would only have to look to the elimination of the NYC Board of Estimate to understand why that is so-and why courts have intervened to contravene this type of voting. Now we don't know why as district system wasn't put in place in Port Chester, but we do know that the remedy had nothing to do with illegal or legal immigrants who, we hope, are still not voting in the village.

That's the story of Port Chester-but sometimes story telling needs to be place withing a preconceives world view, even if the facts don't fit the narrative.