A conclusion to the redistricting process in Monroe County could be on the horizon. After a grueling battle with fiery comments from those involved, a new map appeared to have garnered approval from all sides—until the release today of a new, sharply critical letter sent to Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.
The latest map was announced late last week by Bello. It came after 13 months of deliberation, which included a failed effort for an independent redistricting committee, multiple proposed maps, protests, conferences, and two vetoes.
According to Bello’s announcement, it was developed using input from redistricting experts and conversations with the Legislature “aimed at compromising,” which the other side refutes.
Though both sides have made positive statements about the potential for minority voters with this development, official demographic data on the new boundaries has yet to be released from the county.
“I am encouraged to see Legislature President Sabrina LaMar and the Republican Majority Caucus now recognize the need for a veto and the obligation we have to aim for a six minority-opportunity district map,” said Bello, referencing LaMar and the Crescent map supporters who have opposed his efforts.
Bello added that the December proposal would maintain the core of six districts that have historically provided Black voters the opportunity to elect their candidates of choice.
Crescent map backers dubbed this new effort Crescent 2.0, based on a map they released one day before Bello’s announcement.
“I’m grateful that it took little more than 24 hours for the county executive to embrace President LaMar’s 6-Majority Black District map, making only modest changes. Some of them are good and some of them are concerning,” said County Legislator Rachel Barnhart, who is a Crescent map backer. “But it appears we are finally in the touchdown zone, thanks to the advocacy and feedback of so many dedicated citizens. Let’s get Crescent 2.0 over the finish line!”
At the heart of the redistricting debate lay the question of Black voting power in districts primarily in the city of Rochester.
Bello and his supporters found that previously drawn maps were packing Black voters together in districts, which would dilute their overall voting power. Based on external expert opinions, they favored creating effective minority districts made up of Black and Hispanic voting age populations that could elect minority voters’ candidates of choice.
Conversely, Crescent map supporters accused Bello of spreading Black voters across many districts in order to protect Democratic legislators from competitive primaries by minority candidates. They instead favored creating as many districts with over 50 percent Black VAP as possible.
Their proposed map, which passed the Legislature by a vote of 17 to 12 in October, had five Black majority VAP districts. Plans to sue for six districts with the Department of Justice following a veto by Bello appear to be moving forward based on a letter released today by the Crescent map group.
The December map largely follows the November Crescent map on the outer edges of Monroe County. The metro area, however, does have some differences.
For example, from the Crescent map to the December proposal, District 27 now extends further west into Gates. District 21 moves north into the Homestead Heights and Northland-Lyceum neighborhoods. District 16, which has generally remained along the border of Irondequoit and the city, now extends as far south as North Winton Village.
Even with those differences, the map has received support from both sides. Word choice from their comments does reveal a potential continuing divide, however.
Although he does say the proposal will contain six majority-Black districts, Bello continues to call them “minority-opportunity districts,” similar to the language used by the redistricting experts. He also says the Crescent map was “legally flawed” and that his veto was required to stop it.
“The map I am releasing today would further benefit the community by creating Legislative districts that, compared to the map released by President LaMar, ensure more effective representation for Monroe County residents,” said Bello, claiming the December proposal better preserves neighborhood shape by crossing fewer municipal borders.
On the other hand, Crescent map backers said it was a “huge concession” and “an acknowledgement (by Bello that) President Lamar is correct.”
“We have been consistent in the demand for at least five majority Black districts, and we are thrilled to see that the county executive has belatedly joined our cause and is no longer insisting that effective Black districts are good enough for the Black community, when majority districts are what the community deserves,” said Brighton Town Board Member Robin Wilt.
“Crescent Map 2.0 is an elegant way to address the concerns of the original version. Six districts with approximately 50 percent Black population each is a perfect—and perfectly legal—compromise,” Barnhart added.
This morning, however, the compromise was thrown into question when Crescent Map supporters released a letter from their attorney, Nate McMurray, qualifying their prior praise of the December proposal with several complaints.
While the letter approves of Bello’s attempts to create six Black majority districts, it calls the map “politically biased” because of its creation of a new district on the east, rather than the west side of the city.
“Your proposal would create an additional Black majority district (LD 21) on the east side of the Genesee River, despite the majority of African-Americans living on the west side of the river. This is nonsensical, and more importantly not sparked by a compelling interest,” the letter reads.
Under the latest plan, District 21 would be moved north into the Homestead Heights and Northland-Lyceum neighborhoods.
The letter goes on to accuse Bello of creating this map to protect “a Latina incumbent who opposes the creation of African-American districts” and points to their previous letter to the Justice Department for evidence. While the incumbent is not named in this complaint, a Crescent map supporter indicated it was Legislator Yversha Roman, who represents the northwestern District 26.
It also names Lashana Boose, a former Monroe County Democratic Board of Elections commissioner, as a potential successful county legislator candidate who would be blocked from Black VAP under the new map. Boose supported Frank Keophetlasy, who was part of the Black and Asian Caucus, in his unsuccessful 2021 primary for District 28.
The letter concludes with allegations of illegality in Bello’s latest proposal and with a plea to revise the map to avoid litigation, which could lead to “unexpected and less than desirable consequences.”
Following publication of this story, a group of local Democrats launched a federal lawsuit calling for the appointment of an independent special master due to the stalled redistricting fight. Such a suit is likely to signal federal mediation, the results of which are difficult to predict.
In response, Crescent Map supporter Wilt called the group, which includes former Rochester City School Board President Shirley Thompson, “surrogates” of Bello and confirmed they too planned to file a lawsuit as foreshadowed by McMurray’s letter.