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Albany power struggle over legislative districts comes down to the wire

Commission Vice Chair jack Martins
NYS Independent Redistricting Commission
New York State Independent Redistricting Commission Vice Chair jack Martins speaks at the last public hearing.

When New Yorkers vote for Congress, state Senate and state Assembly next November, candidates will be running in new districts. What the boundaries will be isn't clear and there is an Albany power struggle underway over those boundaries.

The Independent Redistricting Commission held the last of its public hearings Sunday. Just about all of the speakers were there to weigh in on district lines in New York City and its suburbs. They wanted districts to reflect the many different ethnic groups and a share of the political power pie.

"New York is 45% non-white, but only 32% of our state legislators are non-white," said activist Asher Ross. "22% of our state's population is foreign-born, but only 8% of our legislators are. If you add first-generation people with immigrant parents, 35% of New Yorkers fall into that category, but only 17% or our legislators do. And the legislature also skews much older and more male and more highly-educated and upper middle class."

Vice Chair Jack Martins blasted state legislative leaders for trying to sabotage the process.

"If the legislative leaders had actually funded this commission, timely; had provided us with the resources that we needed, timely; had not held us off from us being able to use or hire staff or the resources that we needed, the office space that we needed and to set up these hearings," Martins said.

Chair David Imamura said New Yorkers want their voice in this process, despite COVID and legislators.

"This is the first time that everyday New Yorkers have the ability to weight in on their district lines in a real fashion," Imamura said. "And, in the meantime, there was a global pandemic that completely changed our deadlines, that completely changed our time line. What was supposed to be a year-long process ended up being only three months."

Voters created the independent commission to draw the lines. They want the independent process and proved it again on Election Day when voters rejected an attempt to gut the commission.

The commission will meet Monday, as it prepares boundary lines by the end of the month. Whatever lines are delivered will probably draw lawsuits, once the state Legislature signs off on them.

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.