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Commission releases two versions of redistricting maps; noticeably different, noticeably partisan

NY Independent Redistricting Commission releases proposed maps
One of the two proposed congressional reapportionment maps released Wednesday by the New York Independent Redistricting Commission would eliminate the Southern Tier district currently held by Rep. Tom Reed. The alternate version (seen below) would extend it all the way east to Binghamton.

The congressional district representing Western New York’s Southern Tier population could either extend all the way to Binghamton, or it could be eliminated entirely. Those are the conflicting partisan options unveiled in a set of proposed maps released Wednesday by the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission.

The panel voted to release sets of proposed maps for state and federal legislative districts, with two versions of redrawn congressional, state Senate and Assembly maps each. The sets of maps were labeled “letter” and “name” options, with Democratic members of the commission favoring the letter versions and Republican members favoring the named options. (Click here for links to download the respective proposals.)

“I am concerned about the fact that we're going out with two maps, I would rather we had one, and would reflect the consensus that would be necessary for us to put our combined weight behind a single product,” said Jack Martins, a former state senator who sits on the commission. “I am concerned that when we go out for hearings, that there's sort of a binary discussion between one map and the other, when in fact, what I really want to hear from, what I hope people will provide us, is their input on what they want to see, not necessarily their input on what we have provided them.”

U.S. Census 2020 numbers released earlier this year resulted in the loss of 66one congressional district in New York State, dropping from 27 to 26. The 23rd Congressional District, currently represented by Tom Reed, was believed to be especially vulnerable, with population declines in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties.

NYIRC releases proposed redistricting maps
The "names" version of a proposed congressional redistricting map preserves and extends the district current representing the southern counties of WNY.

The letter version removes a Southern Tier district and expands the territories currently represented by Brian Higgins and Chris Jacobs. Higgins’ district includes the City of Buffalo, which along with Erie County saw a population increase over the past decade. That district keeps Buffalo and expands generally into eastern suburbs now represented by Jacobs.

Jacobs’ district, meanwhile, would under the letter version absorb Western New York’s southern counties and wrap around Higgins’ more urban district, gaining Niagara Falls as part of the territory.

While panelists expressed disappointment over a lack of consensus, some noted that these maps are not final versions.

“We'll be able to get together and improve this product. Because I believe a fair reading of the Constitution contemplates a set of plans, multiple plans or whatever, but a set of plans we had worked out together to put before the public,” said commission member Charles Nesbitt. “Because what we're doing now is putting out — we put out two plans, one of which is not any of the rules or expectations going into this. And I can see nothing but confusion coming from that.”

Public hearings will be hosted throughout the state, including one in Buffalo scheduled for Oct. 20. A start time and venue will be announced at a later date.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.