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Redistricting panel not likely to urge cutting Council districts

Even though Buffalo lost nearly 11 percent of its residents in the past decade, a citizens reapportionment commission will probably not recommend cutting the number of Common Council districts, the panel's co-chairman said Wednesday.

Instead, the Citizens Advisory Commission on Reapportionment is focusing solely on dividing the city's shrinking population among the existing nine Council districts, according to co-chairman the Rev. Matthew Brown.

The panel is still waiting for data that details precise population shifts in each Council district. City information analysts said they are mapping census tracts and should have final figures within a week. Based on data from the census tracts, the Fillmore District appeared to lose the most residents, city officials confirmed.

Brown, who served as then-Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's chief spokesman, was named to the nine-member panel by Mayor Byron W. Brown, who is not related to the pastor, and was elected panel co-chairman.

The other co-chairman is Buffalo attorney Marc Panepinto, who was appointed by Council President David A. Franczyk. Panepinto is close to some members of the Council's ruling majority.

In prior decades, the redistricting process in City Hall has fueled political bickering and divisiveness. In some decades, city leaders ignored recommendations made by previous reapportionment commissions. The panels are only advisory, so the Council and mayor are under no obligation to accept recommendations.

Matthew Brown said he is optimistic that the volunteer panel can avoid messy political squabbles.

"It's only messy when you try to create another outcome other than the outcome that the [census] numbers dictate," he told The Buffalo News. "Politics are messy by themselves, and we'll do our very best to avoid that."

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns said he is convinced the panel will be able to stay above the political fray and come up with new district boundaries that are fair.

"This is a good process. It's an open process," Kearns said.

But North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. disagreed, noting that five of the nine panel members were appointed by the Council majority, a faction with which he is not allied.

"I think the result will be gerrymandered districts that will be drawn to try to protect the current majority," Golombek said. "I just hope they will keep communities together."

Other members of the commission are Lionel Davis, Bonita Durand, Brian Gould, Phil Lowery, Patricia Pierce, Marysol Rosado and Russell Weaver.

The commission hopes to make recommendations by the end of April. Matthew Brown admitted it is a "very aggressive" timeline.

Some Council members are worried that if the final redistricting isn't in place by late spring, they will have to run for re-election to four-year terms this fall, using old district boundaries. If that happens, it might expose the Council to legal action that could ultimately force lawmakers to face election again before their regular terms expire.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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