The first shot in the politically charged battle over how Common Council districts will be redrawn in the new year was fired Monday by North Council Member David P. Rutecki.
Rutecki said he wants the Council to establish a bipartisan, 11-member commission to recommend new boundaries based on the 1990 Census. The panel's members would be appointed by the Council, the mayor and the chief judge of City Court.
"My purpose is to take the whole issue of Council reapportionment out of the political arena and instead have a bipartisan commission convened to make sure neighborhoods are kept together," Rutecki said.
The idea was greeted enthusiastically by Erie County Republican Chairman Thomas M. Reynolds. He said Republicans traditionally have been shut out of the reapportionment process in the city. "If the councilman's plan brings about more democracy in formulating district boundaries, I'm all for it," Reynolds said.
Democrats were slow to react.
The 13-member Council now is all Democratic. County Democratic Chairman Vincent J. Sorrentino said he would have no comment until he reviewed Rutecki's proposal.
Council President George K. Arthur said that before he would comment, he wants to know how the plan would affect minorities in the city.
Rutecki's proposal calls for the Council to select four members to the commission. The mayor and the chief judge would appoint three each. The chairman would be designated by the League of Women Voters. None of those appointing members would be allowed to select all their choices from one political party.
If a bipartisan commission were to make sensible recommendations, "the Council would be hard pressed not to adopt their plan," Rutecki said.
Mary Zaehringer, executive director of the League of Women Voters of the Buffalo Metropolitan Area, said the Rutecki plan appears to fit in with recommendations adopted by the state organization.
"We have had a longtime position of having an independent body established to guide redistricting," she said.
Although the Common Council would have the final authority in drawing new district boundaries, Mrs. Zaehringer agreed with Rutecki that a bipartisan advisory group would be hard to ignore.
"An advisory group is good because it can point out the benefits of an equitable plan and the Council would have to defend the merits of any change," she said.
Rutecki said changes in the Delaware District after the 1980 Census demonstrate how reapportionment can be politicized.
"The whole issue of reapportionment was wrapped up in political bickering that resulted in gerrymandering," he said. "It tore apart the Delaware District and divided the Council and city along neighborhood and racial lines."
He said the district's lines, which had stood for more than a half-century, were splintered along the Richmond-Elmwood corridor to help Democrats and move Republican voters into the Niagara and North districts.
"It was designed to prevent a Republican from being elected from the Delaware District," Rutecki said.
Reynolds described the politics involved in reapportionment as "the toughest form of politics I know."
"Any time you have one-party rule, that's not beneficial," Reynolds said. "In fairness, the voters should at least be offered the opportunity of a two-party race."
The block-by-block details of the census that are needed to guide reapportionment may not be available until April 1, according to a Census Bureau spokesman. The city's population dropped by about 34,000 in the last 10 years, according to the Census.