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Port Chester, New York


Port Chester, New York

From the New York Times By Kirk Semple On June 16, 2010


PORT CHESTER, N.Y. — 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.

The electoral system itself made news, letting voters use six votes however they chose, including casting all six for one candidate. One Republican who won, Joseph D. Kenner, was the first black candidate elected to the board.

“I think the results are clear — that the new system worked,” Mayor Dennis G. Pilla, a Democrat, said on Wednesday.

According to the most recent census data, from 2006 to 2008, Latinos make up 49 percent of the village’s roughly 28,000 people, though many are not citizens; about 39 percent are non-Hispanic whites and 7 percent are black. Still, in past elections, the preferred candidates for the village board among Latino voters were usually defeated.

A federal lawsuit, filed in 2006 by the Justice Department, charged that the village’s method of electing its trustees diluted the voting strength of Latino citizens. A federal court judge agreed, and in 2009 ordered the imposition of a rarely used process known as cumulative voting. Port Chester’s election began with early voting last week and culminated on Tuesday, with the vote count extending into early Wednesday.

It is the first in which cumulative voting has been used in New York State since at least the beginning of the 20th century, according to FairVote, a voting rights advocacy group based in Takoma Park, Md., that was hired to supervise voter education for the new electoral system.

The election of Mr. Marino, one of two Latino candidates on the ballot, could lead to the wider use of cumulative voting as a remedy in voting rights lawsuits, said FairVote’s executive director, Rob Richie.

“In the next round of redistricting, I think you’ll see a lot more places where some remedy may be needed and challenges brought, and communities say, ‘If I have to change, I’d like this,’ ” said Mr. Richie, who was here this week for the election.

But some residents questioned the efficacy of more than $300,000 that the municipality budgeted to carry out a court-ordered voter education program. According to preliminary estimates, the mayor said, voter turnout may not have topped 3,000, or about a quarter of registered voters — similar to the participation rate in other recent local elections.

Mr. Marino, 43, will be joined by another Democrat, two Republicans, a Conservative and an independent. All represent the community at large.

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.

Mr. Didden attained some notoriety during the federal lawsuit by circulating a flier in the 2007 mayoral election that the federal judge called “a racial appeal.” The flier, an appeal to voters to oppose Mayor Pilla’s candidacy, criticized the mayor for his “apparent support” of Latino causes and included attacks on two Latino leaders in the community, according to the judge’s decision.

Mr. Marino said on Wednesday that he believed he had benefited from cumulative voting, especially since his strongest supporters were able to cast most of their votes for him. “I am very excited, very happy,” he said. “I just have to see what’s in front of us, and I’m ready to do the work.”

Two other Latino candidates — Fabiola Montoya, a Colombian-American who ran on the Republican slate, and John Palma, an Ecuadorean-American who ran as a write-in independent candidate — came in 10th and 13th, respectively.