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State redistricting commission taps WNY views

A redistricting map of New York State.
NY Independent Redistricting Commission
One of the two proposed congressional reapportionment maps released 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.

For the next month, the state's independent commission on reapportionment will be touring the state, listening to the public views on how districts for Congress and the state legislature should be drawn up in the wake of the 2020 Census. On Wednesday, they were at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

There are a lot of rules for drawing up the districts, starting with equal numbers. Beyond that, the public has a lot of views, from racial representation to maintaining communities of interest.

The lines are also very political and Albany Democrats are absolutely in control of the boundaries, subject to possible court cases. The process is so contentious, in fact, that when preliminary lines were drawn, Republicans and Democrats couldn't agree, so each drew up its own lines for the public to see.

Chautauqua County Executive P.J. Wendel pleaded for a Southern Tier congressional district, as it is now and has been.

"The residents of the Southern Tier need a strong voice in Washington. We have distinct needs that cannot be watered down or ignored by having our communities merged into areas dominated by Buffalo and Niagara Falls," Wendel said. "With great respect, the leadership in those counties and those cities you do not share our priorities, interest or ways of life. Traditionally, differences between the Southern Tier, Western and Central New York have been mirrored in the congressional and state legislature district boundaries."

Corning Republican State Assemblymember Philip Palmesano said some communities are hurt by bad Census numbers for communities with state prisons.

"In the Town of Attica, for example, the Census Bureau reported a population of 227 prisoners in the Wyoming Correctional Facility. The Department of Corrections reported a prison population of 1,165. That leaves the prison block for the Wyoming Correctional Facility with a negative 938. This has the effect of reducing the actual non-prison population in the rest of the Town of Attica by over 25%," Palmesano said.

Those numbers are important because the districts are supposed to have populations as close in numbers as possible.

A redistricting map of New York State
NY Independent Redistricting Commission
The "names" version of a proposed congressional redistricting map preserves and extends the district current representing the southern counties of WNY.

Shirley Hamilton said that shouldn't mean a district including Niagara Falls and Rochester.

"Buffalo and Niagara Falls are communities of interest, as defined by the redistricting guidelines. We ask that you comply with the Voting Rights Act and the guidelines which created this commission and grant us the right to be a district in which we the people have a voice and demonstrate that our vote matters," Hamilton said.

Hamilton is president of the Niagara Falls branch of the NAACP. She doesn't want another iteration of the infamous "earmuff district," which included the Cataract City and then included a narrow slice of land along Lake Ontario and Rochester.

The deadline for drawing the districts depends on an item on the November ballot, but is either Jan. 1 or Jan. 15.

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.