Hamburg Republican Kevin Smardz looms as Western New York's most endangered member of the Assembly as new district lines stemming from reapportionment took shape Thursday.
Smardz, who was elected to succeed Republican Jack F. Quinn III in 2010, faces a potential matchup against Democratic Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan of Buffalo in a new "waterfront" district stretching from the West Side, along the lakefront through parts of South Buffalo, Lackawanna and into Hamburg -- predominantly Democratic turf that could prove daunting for Smardz.
The new Assembly district lines also create a challenge for Lewiston Republican John D. Ceretto, who inherits the predominantly Democratic stronghold of Niagara Falls. Sources say several well-known Democrats already are contemplating taking a shot at the freshman Republican.
The lines of those districts and others across the state were drawn by a legislative task force charged with the task after population shifts recorded by the 2010 census.
But because public hearings, a gubernatorial veto and even legal action could still alter the new lines, Smardz said he is not yet convinced he will face Ryan in what would be the only matchup of two incumbents in Western New York.
"Right now, it's just the first draft," Smardz said. "It's my understanding they went through two or three versions 10 years ago [during the last reapportionment]."
Ceretto echoed that thought. "Until it's finalized, this is strictly a proposal," Ceretto said.
The new boundaries remove Grand Island from the Ryan district, where it has been for about the last 30 years. The town is slated to join the primarily Niagara County district now represented by Ceretto.
Ryan said he is intrigued by the possibilities presented by a waterfront district but questioned why the process is guided by what he called an antiquated State Constitution that allows cities to be divided among districts but not towns.
His new district also will include parts of Parkside and North Buffalo for the first time.
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, said Democratic-drawn maps are about "protecting their incumbents first."
However, unlike 10 years ago, when a first plan had 14 GOP incumbents pitted against each other, the new plan has only two Republican Assembly members -- from an area southwest of Albany -- facing each other in a primary.
Kolb said the Smardz and Ryan pairing is the sole Democratic and Republican incumbent matchup. "I don't think it's a fair fight if you look at the Democratic advantage," he said.
In a surprise to some observers, the lines basically preserve the district centered in South Buffalo but including West Seneca and Orchard Park. It formerly was represented by Democrat Mark J.F. Schroeder, now the Buffalo comptroller. A special election is slated for March 20 to fill that spot.
That contest features Democrat Christopher J. Fahey, an aide to Rep. Brian Higgins, against South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, a Democrat running on the GOP line. The district's preservation could set up a Democratic primary later in the year that would make the March 20 special contest only Round 1 in the electoral process.
According to the Assembly maps released Thursday, other changes include:
Warsaw Republican Daniel J. Burling's district moves into southern Erie County towns such as Concord, Boston and other areas south of Hamburg.
Amherst Republican Raymond W. Walter would lose North Tonawanda but keep Amherst and Pendleton.
Kenmore Democrat Robin L. Schimminger's district, which changed in the previous reapportionment 10 years ago, would shift back into part of Buffalo to include Black Rock and Riverside, now represented by Ryan.
Schimminger had to pick up 11,000 new constituents in order to make up for population losses in his current district since the 2000 census.
"It's good that [it is] communities of common interest, like the Tonawandas," said Schimminger, who gains and loses some population from his current district but picks up the lion's share of the new constituents needed with the district's move into Buffalo. "Large parts of Black Rock and Riverside will be new to me, but North Buffalo is an area that I've represented before. I recognize that when the present district is down by 11,000 in population there would have to be changes."
The district of Cheektowaga Democrat Dennis H. Gabryszak remains intact: Cheektowaga and Lancaster.
"I wasn't expecting changes," Gabryszak said of the two towns that nearly match the overall district population requirements of about 129,000 constituents.
Some of the new lines left lawmakers scratching their heads. "It's a big shift west for me," Burling said. "I thought I'd be going east."
The new plan drops a couple dozen towns Burling represented in Allegany, Genesee and Livingston counties. He keeps all of Wyoming County, where he lives, but picks up 15 towns in Erie County as far west as Evans and including Eden, Holland, Brant and North Collins.
"It becomes now an Erie County district," Burling said. He added that the plan "decimates" the district now held by Smardz.
"It's all good Republican territory," Burling said of his proposed new district. "But if things don't change, I'm going to have to have discussions with the [Republican] powers that be in Erie County. I plan on running again, so we'll have to see what happens."
Buffalo Democrat Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, whose lines had to change to make up for the loss of 18,000 residents, said she was upset that mapmakers took away the Crescent Avenue and Vernon Triangle areas from her current district and added a large section of northwest Buffalo now represented by Ryan.
"I don't know what the strategy was here. I can't imagine it is a strategy that makes sense for everyone involved," she said.
She picks up a significant chunk of North Buffalo north of Hertel Avenue.
The lines are a first step in a process that will include consideration by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, almost certain lawsuits and a U.S. Justice Department review.
"There will be several gyrations, so I'm not really giving it a whole lot of thought until it gets closer to a vote," said Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin, R-Clarence.
She said her new district would keep some of her current communities -- Alden, Clarence, Lockport and Newstead -- and add some Niagara County towns, including Hartland, Porter and Wilson. She also will represent the Genesee County Town of Pembroke.
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