By Joyce Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
As the Niagara County legislative district map is redrawn, it’s understood the three cities are most at risk of seeing reduced representation on the Legislature — and that parts of cities and towns could end up oddly paired in the new, bigger districts.
Residents who spoke to the citizen panel that’s drawing up the new map Thursday urged it to keep natural fits in mind as it’s dividing 3 cities, 12 towns and 5 villages into 15 legislative districts.
The map has to be redrawn every 10 years based on results of the U.S. Census, to keep the population count in each district roughly equal. The task is more complex this time, since voters decided in 2009 that they want the legislature reduced to 15 districts/seats from 19.
As the panel goes about the task of setting down new district lines, it should be mindful to keep similar communities together, several residents said.
Town supervisors Wright Ellis of Cambria and Joe Jastrzemski of Wilson both went to bat for the soon-to-be-dissolved 14th legislative district covering the towns. They shouldn’t be pulled apart into different districts, both said, because of all that they have in common. Both towns are rural in nature, agriculture is each’s biggest industry and residential/commercial growth is slow by design. Their concerns are unique, Ellis said, and when they share a legislator, both will get “equal treatment,” Ellis said.
Matt Cole of Niagara Falls, LaSalle district, repeated concerns of fellow city residents that as the Falls likely loses at least one of the 5 districts currently covering it, it’ll be losing representation in a countywide body that’s dominated by rural, and Republican, interests.
As the map is redrawn, every attempt should be made to create four city-only districts for the Falls, Cole said, to ensure it dedicated representation. If one of the new districts ends up a piece of the city tacked onto a town, Wheatfield or Niagara, he said, a town/Republican “takeover” of the seat is virtually guaranteed, and that’s to the city’s detriment.
“We don’t want to have to share our legislators with the towns, because their interests are not the same as ours,” Cole said. “Niagara Falls provides more resources to the county, and maybe the state, than any other part of the county.”
Others warned the panel against gerrymandering and succumbing to pressure to draw a Legislature Majority-friendlier map.
“You’ll be under political pressure. Republican pressure, as this is a Republican county,” Al Wroblewski of Royalton Center said.
“Have a computer do the work for you and ... have no fear of reprisals” when the remapping is done, Rosemary Warren of Sanborn said.
“We want the rules followed,” Don Perry of Hartland chimed in.
The redistricting panel is supposed to present its recommended new map to the Legislature by March 8, for a straight up-or-down vote by the county lawmakers in early April. Lawmakers don’t get to tweak the lines themselves, they can only accept or reject the whole map; if they reject it, the advisory panel has to come up with a new recommendation.
The panel will convene for a work meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Legislature chambers.
Chairman Kevin Schuler said residents’ written suggestions and comments about redistricting will be accepted throughout the process, at firstname.lastname@example.org.