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Any downsizing of the congressional representation in upstate New York should at the very least begin in western New York

Redistricting task force hears regional concerns

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The state task force that will draw up new electoral maps in New York State was in Syracuse yesterday to begin a string of public hearings.

New York's losing two congressional seats because of population losses reported in the last Census.

As WRVO's Ellen Abbott reports, the task force, known as "Latfor", heard all about why neither of those seats should come from the districts that span central and northern New York.

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The message from Syracuse to LATFOR yesterday was clear. If a congressional seat is to be sacrificed due to Census numbers in New York State, it shouldn’t come from Syracuse or central New York.

 

Onondaga County GOP Party Chair Tom Dadey urged the commission to look west where there have been more population losses. “It is my belief that any downsizing of the congressional representation in upstate should be at the very least begun in Western New York as to not to affect the other areas that have remained stable or grown in recent years,” Dadey said.

 

The theme of keeping a congressional district in tact came from all corners, including Democrat Election Commissioner Ed Ryan, of Onondaga County. “We are a big community. We are starting to make strides here and for us to be dissected into three or four different congressional races and become an appendage of them. I think we would lose a great deal of our identity,” Ryan said.

 

 New York State will lose two congressional seats. There are rumblings that one will come from downstate, and the other from upstate in central New York, replaced by tentacles of three other congressional seats.

 

Republican Senator Michael Nozzolio, task force co-chair, said he doesn’t even want to talk about whether there’s some truth to those rumors. “It’s much to early in my perspective to even speculate on those issues,” Nozzolio said. “The only thing I can say is that the population losses from Utica to western New York, particularly west of Rochester, have been excessive and that those population losses require New York to lose two congressional seats.”

 

There weren’t just central New York concerns either. Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush came down from Jefferson County to lobby for a North Country congressional district. “Moving counties into central New York or Mohawk Valley districts would have a negative and serious impact on the constituents in my region,” Blankenbush said.

 

Then there was a topic brought up by an academic, Joan Mandel: so-called prison gerrymandering. A law approved last falls requires prisoners to be counted in their home community and not where they are incarcerated. Right now that legislation is in the courts. “If we fail to enforce the law and fully implement the legislatures courageous decision, I am concerned that our state will be a laughing stock,” Mandel said.

 

There are also calls for an independent commission to take on the task of drawing electoral lines, something Governor Cuomo’s been pushing. The League of Women Voters’ Donald Goulet laid out the argument for that: “The present prior partisan process of gerrymandering where most of the races are predetermined has led to New York having one of the highest incumbency rates in the country and the title of most dysfunctional legislature in the nation.”

 

Nozzolio meantime says there’s no time to create such a commission. “There is an intense time pressure on this entire process because of the federal government mandate that the primary be pushed up earlier,” he said.

 

Finally, hovering over the whole proceeding is Governor Cuomo’s threat to veto any maps the task force draws up. Assembly Democrat John McEneny, task force co-chair, ponders a veto scenario: “If the governor vetoed it, if it’s a good decent redistricting then the legislature will override his veto and get back on track. If on the other hand, the governor vetoed it and there wasn’t a mindset in the legislature to override the veto, then the whole thing could be handed to the justice department for a master whom we have no idea who that would be.”

 

In any event, this task force will hold eleven more of these hearings across the state over the next few months. Then it will draw up maps and hold another dozen hearings probably starting in November. Lawmakers probably won’t get to debate it until early next year.

 

In Syracuse, I’m Ellen Abbot.

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