Apr 19, 2011 Ami Olson Uncategorized
In less than a month, Onondaga County legislators waded through a decade of census data to create 17 new legislative districts in a reapportionment and redistricting process that some argue did not employ enough research or input from the public.
The legislature on Friday April 15 approved the local law to enact reapportioned legislative districts, based on the recommendation made by the Reapportionment Committee on Tuesday April 5. Districts are reapportioned every decade following a US census, and this year legislators were also tasked with shrinking the number of districts from 19 to 17, after voters approved the reduction last fall.
The new districts were approved in a 12 to 7 vote along party lines, with Republicans supporting the commission’s proposal.
Democrats argued last Friday that the Republicans’ redraw, coined “Plan A,” put voters’ needs second to protecting incumbent Republican legislators.
County Democrats had presented their own “Plan B” maps, which were defeated Friday.
Republicans say the new districts promote “metropolitization” by adding urban neighborhoods to some previously suburban districts.
“We’re tying to get away from ‘urban against suburban,” Rhinehart said. “I think it’s very important that legislators represent both suburban and urban neighborhoods.”
Each new district accounts for an average of 27,000 voters, said Rhinehart. The average population of the current 19 districts is roughly 23,000, he said.
Election commissioners were not available to verify those numbers at press time.
Process, and results, raise questions
“If you put a map up of the 19 districts, and then put a map up of ‘Plan A,’ I can point to about seven or eight or nine districts that are almost exactly the same as they were to start, because they happen to be Republican districts out in the suburbs,” said floor leader Mark Stanczyk, 9th-D.
He contended the six-member Reapportionment Commission “did not act like a commission” by excluding input from the Democrats.
Legislator Linda Ervin, D-19th, was appointed to the commission by Stanczyk. Ervin and Elections Commissioner Ed Ryan were the only two Democrats and both voted against the proposal.
Ervin said she was disappointed by the way the commission was run and the districts it recommended to the legislature.
“We knew this was happening this year, and I thought throughout the year that we’d be doing some great things together,” Ervin said. “The [census] figures came out and all of a sudden, here we are and it’s done.”
Ervin said she attended the three commission meetings that were held, but was given little insight into the process used to draw the new districts.
“They contend that they looked at the numbers, when I asked point blank ‘why do we have this new district in DeWitt?’ — that district has pushed everything else west — I received no answer,” Ervin said, referring to the new district 7. “Clearly, it was created for someone.”
Democrats also found fault in the April 13 public hearing on the commission’s proposed reapportionment.
Stanczyk argued that there was no way input from the public that was heard Wednesday could be incorporated into the local law voted on Friday by the legislature.
“Local laws were on the desk. The public input could never be taken into account because it couldn’t change the local laws that were on the desk,” Stanczyk said.
He said the process “made a sham of the commission, and it made a sham of the public hearing.”
But Rhinehart defended the commission’s process, pointing out that the first proposal the commission reviewed was one submitted by Democrats.
“For anybody to say this was a closed process, that ideas were not exchanged — it’s just not true,” Rhinehart said.
No time for questions
Walt Dixie, who spoke on behalf of the National Action Network at Friday’s special session, was disappointed in how quickly the process went through the legislature and suggested it was the Democrats’ duty to follow through on any objections they raised to the new district lines.
“I hear that this is a done deal,” Dixie said Friday. “Do we have to be so quick with this?”
He urged the legislature to table the vote to allow more discussion.
Dixie questioned how seriously the legislature could have taken the public’s comments, when the vote was scheduled for less than 48 hours after the public hearing.
Why have a public hearing at all, he asked, if the public’s input was not going to be considered?
Dixie said he feared the new districts may endanger minority voters’ civil rights in some neighborhoods, but said he hadn’t had enough time to review the proposals before Friday’s vote to know if there was a threat.
He said he spoke Friday to encourage legislators to seek the input of an expert on the impact of the new district lines, but said he hadn’t heard from any legislators on that topic.
The local law passed Friday will go to Republican County Executive Joanie Mahoney next, who will hold another public hearing at 11 a.m. Thursday April 21, in the county executive’s conference room on the 14th floor of the Civic Center.
Mahoney has the power to approve or veto the legislature’s proposal; Martin Skahen, Mahoney’s director of communications, said she would make a final decision after the public hearing.
If she elects to sign the local law, Mahoney would have to do so by the end of Friday.
But with some door knocking, the public could have even more say in the redistricting plan.
A petition of approximately 14,000 signatures, or 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election, could send the redistricting proposal to public referendum, according to Kathy Kimball with the board of elections.
Legislator Thomas Buckel, D-7th, said the public would have 45 days to gather the signatures needed to send the vote to permissive referendum.
“It’s an overwhelming task. It would take all of 45 days for the people to go out almost every night,” Buckel said.
A proposal to send the vote to public referendum with only 7,000 petition signatures was rejected Friday along party lines, with 12 Republicans voting against and 7 Democrats voting in favor.
Update: This story incorrectly stated County Executive Joanie Mahoney had until June 6 to pass the reapportionment law. Mahoney must sign the law by Friday April 22.