Sparks fly over latest redistricting proposal

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The Monroe County Legislature’s Democratic Caucus is challenging the latest attempt at redistricting. Data from consulting firm ArcBridge, they say, shows a lack of majority Black districts in the proposal.

Supporters of the proposed Crescent map say it would result in five primarily Black voting areas in districts 22, 25, 27, 28 and 29. However, the Democratic Caucus claims three of those districts (22, 28, and 29) would have less than 50 percent of a non-Hispanic Black voting age population. 

“This is troubling as the map falls short on its promise, while breaking up communities,” said Legislator Yversha Roman at a press conference Thursday. “The right thing to do is to determine whether we can create six effective majority-minority districts that provide for more opportunities to elect Black representatives.”

Supporters of the new map have used misleading and inaccurate information to launch a PR campaign that is “paraded as a full-fledged bipartisan effort,” the caucus says.

Those who back the Crescent map accuse the Democratic Caucus of misinformation as well. Using the non-Hispanic Black metric can leave out mixed-race and African-Latinos, skewing numbers against the majority-minority districts. According to the ArcBridge data, districts 22, 28 and 29 have 36 percent, 32 percent, and 19 percent Hispanic voting age population, respectively.

“In Monroe County, five Black majority districts are proportional to the Black population, historic for our community, and are required by the Voting Rights Act,” Legislature President Sabrina LaMar said in a statement. “This historic map, now known as the Bi-Partisan Crescent Map, was created and agreed to by Democrats until they panicked at the thought of Black voting districts. 

“Now, the Democratic Caucus is engaged in misinformation designed to confuse voters and pit the Hispanic community against the Black community–all to protect the interests of the white Democratic political establishment.”

LaMar also referenced an analysis by elections attorney Joe Burns that backs the newest map. Burns writes that the Crescent map has the highest possibility of passing a challenge under Voting Rights Act Section 2, supported by frameworks and tests established by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Thornburg v. Gingles.

Under Gingles, minority groups in question must be sufficiently large, compact, politically cohesive, and vote as a bloc. Burns notes that none of the proposed maps have managed to create a majority Hispanic voting age population district, meaning they do not have protection as a group from the Voting Rights Act.

“I call for the members of the Democratic Caucus to put aside their partisanship, end their misinformation campaign, and support this historic plan to enfranchise the disenfranchised in our community,” LaMar said.

Legislator Rachel Barnhart, a Democrat who supports the new proposal, is disappointed that others in her party are opposed to it, and frustrated at the lack of an alternative, viable map.

“It’s devastating to see fellow Democrats–who initially agreed to create the five Black districts– engage in anti-Black racism in an effort to thwart this historic opportunity,” said Barnhart. “Arguing over definitions of who considers themselves Black on Census data is pretextual to just not want to create Black districts.

“It’s not too late to do our jobs and work together to bring this matter to a resolution,” she added.

Members of the Democratic Caucus take umbrage at that. They claim that under the proposed map, District 21, which Barnhart represents, will change from majority-minority to over 60 percent white voting aged population.

“When we started this redistricting process, Legislator Barnhart told us ‘neighborhoods, neighborhoods, neighborhoods.’ She, as our former assistant minority leader, encouraged us to involve our communities and fight to keep neighborhoods together,” said Legislator Mercedes Vazquez Simmons. “When Legislator Barnhart saw the writing on the wall that a sensible map might be drawn for her district, the importance of keeping neighborhoods together was rebranded as ‘pretty shapes.’ These neighborhoods are not pretty shapes.”

Neighborhoods are the backbone of communities, she added, often filled with residents who have lived there for decades. 

“Splitting neighborhoods and communities in an electoral process is a textbook strategy for disenfranchisement and no one is buying it,” Simmons said. 

While the map has yet to be approved by the Legislature, it will require County Executive Adam Bello’s sign off. Bello previously vetoed a proposed map in mid-December 2021, which prompted the drafting of new possibilities.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

3 thoughts on “Sparks fly over latest redistricting proposal

  1. All I see is misery in the community, which includes the crime and the education crisis. The politicians can’t even address their own internal conflicts that exist with two Parties,…two parties! And you expect them to go beyond their incompetence and address the issues that plaque the City of Rochester? The politicians need to be made aware of just why the Rochester Community is in a tailspin. They can do that by looking in their bathroom mirror.

  2. I’m sympathetic toward inclusiveness efforts by Black elected and appointed officials drawing legislative district lines and encouraging more neighbors to vote and become involved in their democracy. However, based on past behavior, I’m not confident that the people in the legislature who say they represent the neighborhoods in question are the people who should be involved in the decision-making. Accusing one legislator who is Caucasian of promoting her self-interest is laughable on its face. I am, perhaps, naïve and idealistic. Still, I’ve always believed that district lines should be as symmetrical as possible and should not be drawn in such a way as to give any political party, candidate, or minority group a clear advantage. That’s gerrymandering. Suppose community leaders, elected officials, or incumbents truly want minority voters of any type to vote. In that case, they need to up their ground game, knock on doors, and encourage all citizens in a given neighborhood to register and vote. They must share their platform and ideas, which resonates with voters enough so they can get elected on their merits. Rather than drawing lines along perceived lines of specific communities of color, which may change composition during the next ten years, Democrats need to motivate all people throughout the county to vote. Perhaps a workable compromise could be achieved if the Legislature’s President were less confrontational and treated fellow Democratic Legislators and party leaders more collegially and with respect.

  3. Rochester is what it is and will never be what it is capable of because,….politicians who are only interested in control. Control regarding their power and their status within the Party. It’s almost as thought the populous doesn’t exist. If you think for one second, you’d be wrong,…. that they care about the issues at hand, crime, drugs, gangs, generational poverty, shootings, teenage moms and etc. Rochester ranks number one in most. When are you politicians going to do the right thing for the constituents? When? When is the infighting going to stop? When will you as grown-ups act the part? All the misery belongs to you, YOU OWN IT,…. and you owe it to the citizenry to work on their behave and address those issues. That’s your job, that’s what you get paid for, that’s what you were elected to do.

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