By Jerry Kremer
Long Island is made up of hundreds of communities that proudly proclaim their famous past and any special historical facts that would attract new homeowners. The Five Towns has always stood out as an affluent and well-respected region in southwestern Nassau County. But its political status has been overlooked.
According to Wikipedia, the informal grouping of Cedarhurst, Hewlett, Inwood, Lawrence and Woodmere has been called the Five Towns since 1931. The name was born when Community Chest groups, organized for charitable giving, banded together to form the Five Towns Community Chest. Over the years, all manner of organizations have embraced the Five Towns designation. Many other local communities have, too, including Hewlett Bay Park, Hewlett Harbor, Hewlett Neck and Woodsburgh. Ask any residents of North Woodmere what geographic conglomerate they’re part of, and they’ll claim the name Five Towns as well.
There is lots of fascinating history associated with the area. Many buildings there date their origins to the early 1920s, when developers built summer homes in Hewlett. Alexander Cartwright, a Woodsburgh resident, published the first rules of baseball in 1845 for the New York Knickerbockers. Mobster Arnold Rothstein opened a casino in Hewlett Harbor in 1916. Between 1937 and 1941, the Five Towns hosted the professional Negro league baseball teams the Black Yankees and the Brooklyn Royal Giants.
Some real estate brokers eager to associate themselves with the Five Towns named their enclave West Lawrence, as distinct from Far Rockaway. Over the past 20-plus years, a large number of Orthodox families have been attracted to the Five Towns, which has caused a major jump in real estate values. Anyone who has followed the history of the area can attest to the fact that “Back Lawrence,” as it was once called, has been home to many wealthy bankers and developers.
Every decade, based on the latest U.S. census figures, the legislative district lines of the Five Towns have been redrawn, and elections for the Assembly, State Senate and Nassau County Legislature have been dramatically impacted. Once upon a time, the Five Towns was treated with the greatest respect by government mapmakers. Sadly, however, it has been carved into many pieces, and it no longer has the political clout that it once claimed.
I recall many political names that were connected to the Five Towns. Presiding Supervisor Palmer D. Farrington, along with U.S. Rep. Herbert Tenzer, Town Councilman Eugene Weisbein, State Sen. Karen Burstein and Assemblyman Eli Wager were among its prominent elected officials. In the mid-1960s, Barbara Boxer deserted the Five Towns for California and eventually became a U.S. senator.
From 1972 to 1989, I had the honor of representing the Five Towns in the State Assembly. I knocked on hundreds of doors as a candidate, and attended dozens of events sponsored by the Community Chest and other worthy charities. I viewed the Five Towns as an important power base. The Herald Community Newspapers, now read across Nassau County and beyond, were born in the Five Towns.
The reason for this walk down memory lane is to lodge an informal protest that no current local elected official has ever aggressively fought to keep the Five Towns as one political unit. The Assembly and Senate district lines, as well as the County Legislature, have been crafted with no respect for the historical identity of these very closely knit communities. This isn’t some form of snobbism; just a commentary on why people who want your vote don’t speak out at the time when new voting districts are created.
We should hope that in 2030, when the next federal census takes place, some dynamic local official will take up the cause of once again making the Five Towns into one united political region. Its great history deserves some extra respect.
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