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City residents express concerns to committee on county redistricting

The citizens panel expected to draw 11 new districts for the Erie County Legislature sampled its first taste of public opinion Monday:

Eva Doyle, a retired Buffalo teacher and an activist in Buffalo, said she had no faith in the committee, given its racial and gender makeup, to draw legislative boundaries fair to minorities.

The 15-member Advisory Committee on Reapportionment includes whites, African-Americans and Latinos but just two women.

*Charley H. Fisher III, a former Buffalo Common Council member active in Buffalo's political scene, urged the committee to ensure that the new Legislature has three exclusively Buffalo districts.

"Because Buffalo is the hub of the region," Fisher said. "It's still the driving force and, you know what? We are on our way back."

*Bryan G. Ball, president of the Stonewall Democrats of Western New York, said the committee should take into account the concentration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, as well as those questioning where they stand on the sexual-identity spectrum, found in the city's Elmwood Village, Allentown, North Buffalo and the West Side.

He said those groups are underrepresented and denied basic civil rights by local, state and federal laws. He urged not to break up those neighborhoods among legislative districts.

The hearing may have been a sign of things to come as the advisory committee heads into other corners of Erie County in coming weeks. Residents will want to make sure that their concerns are heard by their next county legislator and that their voices are not dispersed among several districts.

The panel will draw boundaries that adjust for population shifts over the last decade while dropping the Legislature from 15 members to 11, as voters demanded on Election Day.

The committee will be urged to hurry it along, so candidates can start passing their nominating petitions in June. To do so, they will need to know the districts in which they are running. In the background are concerns that the process cannot be completed in time, especially with court challenges likely.

Meanwhile, the committee has scheduled more public hearings, starting at 5 p.m. and including one at each campus of Erie Community College:

*April 12 in the ECC City Campus auditorium, 121 Ellicott St.

*April 13 at ECC North Campus, 6205 Main St., Amherst, in K Building (Kittinger Hall), Lecture Room 100; the entrance is accessible from either Youngs Road or Wehrle Drive.

*April 14 at ECC South Campus, at 4041 Southwestern Blvd., Orchard Park. That hearing will be in the auditorium in Building 5.

Redistricting any legislative body can be a politically charged affair, as each major party tries to include the areas that will provide it with the upper hand. The local chapter of the League of Women Voters has been watching the process for the County Legislature. One of its members commended the panel on being open and transparent so far.

As for the panel's racial and gender composition, the committee could not control that. Thirteen of the members were appointed by legislative leaders. The other two are the Republican and Democratic elections commissioners.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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