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Appellate Court Hears Council Downsizing Appeal

By Mark Scott & Lisa Litzinger

Buffalo, NY – Opponents of reducing the size of the Common Council are still trying to stop next week's referendum from taking place.

Attorney Ed Cosgrove, representing Council President James Pitts, presented arguments Wednesday at a hearing of the State Appellate Court in Rochester. Also appearing was the city's Corporation Counsel on behalf of the Council majority which approved the downsizing.

At issue is whether city residents should be able to cast their vote next week on eliminating four council seats. Cosgrove continued to make the argument that the Council's seven-to-six vote was illegal.

"I showed the court a calendar that sits on the desks of all the councilmen. That calendar specifically says that a two-thirds vote, rather than a majority vote, is needed in order to place a ballot measure for the voters to decide upon," Cosgrove said. "The court was particularly interested in knowing about that calendar."

The judges reserved decision. Cosgrove said they gave no timetable on when their ruling will be released.

"I would expect and hope they would give us a decision," Cosgrove said. "I expect to hear by Friday or Monday, but again, courts have surprised me."

Cosgrove was appealing a lower court decision that allowed next week's referendum to take place as scheduled.

Also Wednesday, some politicians and women's groups say they are concerned about the effect that downsizing the Common Council will have on women. They point out the proposition will reduce the number of female voices in the Council from four to two.

More importantly, they say, the proposition to eliminate at-Large seats will reduce women's chances of being elected to the council in the future. Masten District Council Member Antoine Thompson says there are more women registered to vote in the city than men.

"According to the numbers, there are 19,000 more women that are registered [to vote than men], so in a city-wide race Beverly Gray and Rose LoTempio can do very well," Thompson said. "And remember Rose LoTempio lost as the University District Council member, and she came back as an at-large member. So in a city-wide race, women can win."

Thompson says that in the last eight years, women have made up the majority of the at-large seats. However, he says that some districts have seldom or never elected women to represent them in the Council.