Part of Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt's district is involved in a new court fight over the division of the Town of Ramapo and its large Hasidic population in the recent reshaping of New York's 150 Assembly districts.
For decades, the Rockland County town has been split into three Assembly districts, in violation of the state constitution.
The new Assembly map that state lawmakers approved last month would shift the lines inside Ramapo but keep it a three-district town for the next 10 years, as well.
A pending court challenge seeks to end that tradition. A Ramapo councilman has asked a panel of federal judges to order a new Assembly map.
He argues that Ramapo shouldn't be split at all and that the latest division dilutes the ultra-Orthodox community's voting power by placing the Hasidic villages of Kaser and New Square in separate Assembly districts.
The outcome could affect not only Rabbitt's district, but neighboring ones in Orange and Rockland counties and perhaps those farther north, since redrawing lines in and around Ramapo would have a domino effect.
Rabbitt, whose district is mostly in Orange County but has a piece of Ramapo, is not part of the lawsuit. But she says she agrees with Ramapo Councilman Yitzchok Ullman that Ramapo should occupy a single Assembly district.
"I just think it should be one member who represents Ramapo," said Rabbitt, R-Greenwood Lake.
Ramapo's population of nearly 127,000 makes it ripe for its own Assembly district, each of which must have about 129,000 residents. Indeed, the reform group Common Cause put all of Ramapo in one Assembly district last year when it proposed political maps based on nonpartisan principles.
Ramapo is the only New York town with fewer people than an Assembly district but multiple Assembly seats. The state Constitution lets lawmakers divide towns only if their population is more than 1.5 times that of an Assembly district — a criterion met only on Long Island.
Yet Ramapo has been divided since 1972. Assemblyman Jack McEneny, co-chairman of the task force that proposed new lines this year, said Monday that courts let the division stand that year and after each subsequent redistricting.
One problem with Ullman's argument about weakened voting power is that Rabbitt's redrawn district connects Kaser and Hasidic areas in neighboring Monsey with Kiryas Joel in Orange County.
Indeed, that merger could pose trouble for Rabbitt in November, since both of Kiryas Joel's voting blocs supported Rabbitt's Democratic opponent in 2010.
Ullman's complaint implies that Kaser and New Square were separated to help Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, a Suffern Democrat who now represents both villages.
He notes that New Square voted 1,841-80 for Jaffee in 2010, while three quarters of the 1,017 Kaser voters who cast ballots that day skipped the Assembly race. The remainder went 140-125 for Jaffee's opponent, according to court papers.