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Buffalo Common Council backs off on proposed new district lines, an apparent victory for activists

Mike Desmond
Community activist Stephanie Barber-Geter criticizes the planned Common Council district boundaries outside City Hall June 30, 2022.

The latest fight in Buffalo between the political establishment and community activists has taken a twist, with the Common Council delaying a vote on new district boundaries to reflect the 2020 Census and its significant population increases and shifts.

The Council was to vote Friday morning on a plan which had limited public discussion until a rowdy and raucous hearing on Tuesday, That was dominated by activists pushing for their newly-designed plan and not the one favored by Council members. There was no public support for that plan.

Opponents planned to pack the Council session on the boundaries and told a news conference Thursday that a lawsuit against the boundaries was likely.

Hamlin Park activist Stephanie Barber-Geter said the original process wasn’t fair.

“The first thing that needs to happen is a sense of fairness. Fairness means that it's open. You know when it's happening. You know who's doing the lead work. You know the background, the data. You understand where it's headed," Barber-Geter said. "To come to a meeting with a couple days notice and be given two maps that look just alike and then suddenly get a third map that doesn't look like either, shocks you.”

Geographer Russell Weaver was a key figure in preparing the alternative map, preferred by the activists because of the proposed boundaries.

“They equalize population a little bit better," he said. "They are more compact, far more compact than the districts that are proposed out there by the Common Council and they create an additional district where Black voting-age persons in the city would have plurality or numerical advantage relative to other groups. And so, that's a way that we can advance racial equity through the plan by increasing the electoral power, potential electoral power of some of our residents.”

Former mayoral candidate India Walton attacked the council plan and its proposed Fillmore District lines. It would be a horseshoe shaped district, with one end into the Elmwood Village, sweeping South through Canalside and then back up to the Genesee-Moselle area, wrapped around the new Ellicott District.

“I'm thinking about how people in Broadway-Fillmore around the Broadway Market are still fighting childhood lead poisoning, the non-enforcement of the Rental Registry and terrible landlords and how they compete for the same resources with folks in Allentown," Walton said.

The whole fight is considered a prelude to Council races next year, with several of the leaders of the activist groups thought to be considering races against incumbents, like Walton potentially running against Council Majority Leader David Rivera in the Niagara District.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.