Local residents weighing in on a plan for new Assembly district boundaries Monday urged the Independent Redistricting Commission of New York State to consider keeping what already worked in the current district map.
The commission held a public hearing Monday in the Burchfield Penney Arts Center, the first of 12 such hearings scheduled across the state. Commission chairman Kenneth Jenkins said the 10-member panel on Dec. 1 approved a draft map for the Assembly to consider, and is now seeking input from the public. In drawing the new draft lines – under court order – the commission sought to create districts with only small deviations in population, as well as districts that do not unnecessarily split cities, towns and counties.
"It's very important for the public to make their voice heard," Jenkins said.
Amherst Democratic Committeeman Jerome Schad and other residents from the town expressed dismay over plans to divide Amherst into two separate districts, which the critics insisted would dilute the town's voting power in the Assembly. As the largest town in Upstate New York, with nearly 130,000 residents, the town is big enough to remain in one district, they argued.
People are also reading…
"They divided the town in such a way that they took the majority Democratic-leaning town to be a minority party in both new proposed districts, effectively disenfranchising the voice of the Town of Amherst in the state Legislature," Schad said.
Republicans, anticipating that Assembly district lines will be redrawn early in 2023, are optimistic their next round of campaigns might offer the chance to strengthen their numbers if districts are drawn to avoid partisan gerrymandering.
'They made the proposed 146th, which is currently our district, in the shape of a reverse C, stretching far east and south with many more rural and disparate communities, not the same community we started with," he added.
Michelle Iannello, chairwoman of the Amherst Democratic Committee, expressed the view that the new map was drawn for political expediency.
"I truly feel that this has been done for political reasons, and that the new map shifts the political party of power away from our Democratic majority," Iannello said.
Members of the commission insisted that their plan was not partisan, noting that, by law, the commission is prohibited from looking at the political makeup of the districts that are drawn. Commission vice chairman Charles Nesbitt said it would be impossible for the commission to draw up a map that would satisfy everyone.
Meanwhile, David Thompson of Hamburg advocated for keeping like communities together.
A bipartisan panel charged with drawing New York’s legislative district lines has struck a compromise agreement. And it could mean changes for Assembly members who represent Buffalo.
"I personally feel that the current versions of the maps that we have are pretty beneficial to a lot of our communities, and the work that goes into trying to meet the new constituencies can be very difficult from a legislative standpoint, and a lot of work does go into build a lot of trust in these communities. And to do that for two years, and to have that taken away, in some cases, might create havoc," Thompson said.
Similar sentiments were voiced by Ian Klenck of the Town of Tonawanda.
"The current boundaries are really effective, especially in the 140th district, which includes North Buffalo, Klenck said.
He described a continuity of character between North Buffalo and the Town of Tonawanda.
"It's really very similar in terms of values and in terms of a whole different broad spectrum of makeups for what those two areas look like. So, I think the inclusion of that area into the 140th really makes a lot more sense than the current plan, as proposed," Klenck said.
Mark Boyd read a letter on behalf of Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who was in Albany on Monday and unable to attend the public hearing in person.
Under the commission's draft proposal, Buffalo would be divided into three Assembly districts: One covering the city’s East Side, the other the West Side and a third containing part of South Buffalo. The result would be to significantly reshape Peoples-Stokes' district, potentially diluting the influence of one of the most powerful Democrats in the state Legislature.
"My recommendation would be to maintain the map of the 141st district previously voted on the state Legislature," Peoples-Stokes said in the statement read before the commission.
Among mitigating factors, Peoples-Stokes noted that Buffalo has increased in population for the first time in decades as a result of an influx of immigrants from Africa and Southeast Asia.
"New York State is no stranger to America's long history of excluding people of color from the political process," Peoples-Stokes said, adding that New York and Michigan were the only two northern states found in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
I am one of only four non-white members (of the Assembly) in Upstate New York. Ninety percent of the 43 Assembly districts west of the Hudson Valley lack racially diverse representation throughout all of Upstate New York, the 141st Assembly District is the only majority minority district," Peoples-Stokes added.