New York City’s redistricting commission is set to release a revised version of proposed boundaries for City Council districts after a preliminary map in July drew criticism for breaking up communities of interest and not protecting minority communities covered by the Voting Rights Act.
Russell Weaver, an economic geographer and director of research at the Cornell ILR Buffalo Co-Lab, says the redistricting serves as an opportunity to create fair and sensible plans for the collective interests of neighborhoods and communities – instead of politics and incumbency protection.
"New York State is arguably the most interesting classroom and laboratory right now for learning about and studying different approaches to local political redistricting. The people of Syracuse made history when a redistricting plan created by a fully independent commission made up of ordinary citizens became law. That plan sent clear signals that not only can everyday residents create sensible, equitable redistricting plans, but that, when given power, they prioritize neighborhoods and collective interests ahead of politics and incumbency protection.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Common Council in Buffalo ignored widespread public opposition to its plan, which the Editorial Board of the city’s daily newspaper called “an incumbent protection plan, pure and simple.” The Buffalo Council declined to consider districting plans that were generated by the public and instead forced their own map through the legal process. That map is about to face a legal challenge, meaning that redistricting in Buffalo is far from over.
Meanwhile, the redistricting commission in New York City is set to release a revised map later this week. Like in Buffalo, the NYC Commission’s first map was met with a chorus of disapproval. Reporting by the New York Times suggests that the forthcoming revised draft addresses some of the more egregious issues with the original plan; however, as in Buffalo, there remain concerns that many decisions were made behind closed doors. Unlike its upstate counterparts, New York City’s marked racial-ethnic diversity gives map drawers unique opportunities to create districts that empower residents and voters of color – such as districts in which members of the City’s fast-growing Asian communities make up a majority of district population. The redistricting community will be eagerly watching the NYC process play out to see if these and other opportunities to create fair, equitable, context sensitive districts are taken, or if the process ends up in a courtroom like in Buffalo and like New York’s Congressional and State Senate maps before it."