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Buffalo Common Council approves new district lines, setting up likely court battle

Buffalo Common Council approves controversial new district lines
Mike Desmond
The Buffalo Common Council meets in the Council chamber July 19, 2022. The Council approved controversial new district lines that are likely to be challenged in court.

The Buffalo Common Council approved controversial new district lines Tuesday, setting up a likely court battle.

There has been a public battle for weeks over the proposed map, drawn by the Reapportionment Commission and tinkered with by Council members. There was an alternative map from the activist group Our City Action Buffalo, but city lawyers ruled it out because the Reapportionment Commission has already been decommissioned.

With less than one day’s notice, the Council called a special session Tuesday to push through the commission’s map.

The Council voted to approve the plan in about three minutes, even as opponents in the crowded Council chambers shouted, “No.” The Council’s approval then brought more chants and shouting from the audience. “Vote them out. Vote them out,” they said.

Competing versions of Buffalo Common Council district map
Buffalo Common Council (left), Our City Action (right)
On the left is the reapportionment commission's proposed Buffalo Common Council district map. On the right is the alternative map proposed by activist group Our City Action Buffalo.

After Council members left the chambers and turned off the cameras that feed to Facebook, opponents continued to speak in opposition and promised a court fight. In a lot of fights over redistricting, the courts order a makeover or even appoint independent experts to draw lines.

One speaker pointed out that the Council’s map gives Black people, who make up 35% of the city’s population, control of only three of the nine districts. The Our City Action Buffalo map would give them four.

“It's all about political power,” the speaker said.

Another speaker said creating new district lines is a process that cannot be rushed.

“Once district lines are adopted, they will be in force for 10 years. We must take time to pass boundaries that go beyond mere population equality and meet growing public demand for social and racial equity in Buffalo.”

In addition to a legal challenge, there are likely to be strong challenges against sitting Council members in 2023. One battle is likely to be former mayoral candidate India Walton against Council Majority Leader David Rivera in the Niagara District.

The district map will now have to be approved by Mayor Byron Brown. However, the mayor will have to first hold a public hearing. It’s likely to be loud and contentious.

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.
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