The redistricting process in New York State is in the home stretch. A second round of hearings finishes up this week after the release of legislative district lines that many called political attempts to keep incumbents in office.
In Syracuse Tuesday, State Senator Michael Nozzolio, who sits on the Legislative task Force on Reapportionment, or LATFOR, defended what he calls a complicated process.
“There are over 300,000 Census blocks in our state, but people don’t live in square configurations,” said Nozzolio. “You have to reflect the population, you have to reflect the Voting Rights Act, you have to reflect the constitutions of New York State and the United States, and that’s what our plans are doing.”
Albany area Assemblyman Jack McEneny, another member of the task force, says there's a common theme when people look at the maps.
“Over and over again, ‘Keep us together. Don’t separate us’, and we hear that repeatedly,” said McEneny.
Critics say the maps don't reflect the way people live in New York State. Common Cause was one of the groups that testified in Syracuse on Tuesday. Executive Director Susan Lerner says in Syracuse for example, her group suggests one district representing the whole city instead of the city-suburban combinations proposed now.
“If you’re a voter in Syracuse, then you want to be in the same district as other residents who have the same concerns and not put in a district with people in rural and suburban areas who have different needs from the Legislature,” said Lerner. “That’s what it’s about. It’s about which are the communities that have similar concerns that should have unified representation.”
Lerner says the maps are drawn by the Legislature were drawn simply as a way for lawmakers to keep power. One of the prime examples, she says, is Syracuse area Sen. John DeFrancisco.
“That scoops in from the suburbs into the city of Syracuse and picks up random neighborhoods connected by a small corridor that just happens to pick up Senator DeFrancisco’s house,” said Lerner.
Sen. Nozzolio defends DeFrancisco’s redrawn district, saying it’s actually an improvement over the current district.
“I think it’s an improvement over the current district lines that stretch around from the eastern part of Onondaga County to the eastern part of Cayuga County without touching the western part of Onondaga County,” said Nozzolio.
Committee members say it's difficult to draw maps that comply with all the state and federal legislation that applies. These state legislative maps will be tweaked in the next week, and could be up for a vote by the legislature March 1. Governor Cuomo has said he will veto the new district lines as they are currently drawn. A veto would almost certainly send the issue to the courts.
This process does not include the highly charged Congressional district maps, which are expected to be released in the next few weeks. New York will lose 2 Congressional districts this year, due to population changes in the 2010 Census.