Citizens comment on the latest draft municipal council redistricting map


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For the first time in 20 years, Syracuse will redesign its City Council districts. The City of Syracuse Redistricting Commission, currently in the middle of its process, released its latest draft of the new map on May 1.

Since the publication of the last draft, some citizens have raised concerns about maintaining the cohesion of the city’s neighborhoods and the demographics of the new neighborhoods.

Grant Reeher, professor of political science at Syracuse University, said in an email that generally new borders are more compact and contiguous.

“They seem to respect pre-existing community boundaries more evenly,” said Reeher, who is also director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

On the drafted map, much of the south side of Syracuse will be in District A, which includes neighborhoods such as South Valley, North Valley, and Brighton. District B includes the city’s downtown area as well as the shores of Onondaga Lake near the Destiny USA Mall. The north side is split between District C and District D on the drafted map. District C includes the Near Northside and Washington Square neighborhoods, while Eastwood, Sedgwick, and Lincoln Park make up District D.

The commission placed SU and surrounding areas in District E on the drafted map. While SU currently shares a neighborhood with the city’s downtown, the two are split in the project. In addition to the University Neighborhood and University Hill neighborhoods, the project includes Westcott, Skytop and Meadowbrook in District E.

Independent citizen volunteers oversaw the redistricting process and the subsequent creation of the preliminary map as commissioners of the SCRC. The group’s process began in March following the fall 2021 Common Council elections.

Jason Belge, an SCRC commissioner, said the commission is diverse and apolitical and all members have an equal voice regarding the cards. The curators worked with SUNY New Paltz’s Benjamin Center, which specializes in recutting, to create the maps.

In the latest draft of Common Council districts, Syracuse University shares a district with Westcott and Meadowbrook wards.
Image courtesy of the City of Syracuse Redistricting Commission

The commissioners too guest comments through public hearings on how the new maps could be redesigned to best preserve cohesion between neighborhoods and communities. The City of Syracuse Redistricting Commission held a public meeting Thursday, June 2 at the Northeast Community Center to discuss the newly drafted maps.

Some changes between the current map and the drafted map include the role of I-81 and the creation of a majority-minority district.

A person present at the meeting raised concerns about the racial demographics of the new districts. She asked commission members whether keeping minority communities together in the same districts empowers them or further marginalizes them.

Commission members responded that one of the main goals of the redistricting process was to keep minority communities together to maximize their voting power instead of dividing communities into districts.

From 2010 to 2020, the population of Syracuse increased by 22.4%. Along with this growth, the demographics of the city have also changed. While in 2010 Hispanics made up only 6.72% of Syracuse’s voting population, in 2020 the group makes up 9.11%. Similar upward trends have occurred for Black and “Native American” communities in Syracuse, according to analysis by the Benjamin Center.

Changes in Syracuse’s population and demographics informed the redistricting commission’s process and goals, Belge said.

“We tried to understand places of interest, commonalities, things of that nature. What the lines don’t do is they don’t distinguish between neighborhoods,” Belge said. “So those commonalities, people who have similar interests, will in turn hopefully vote for the candidates who best reflect those common interests to then represent them and the local public.”

The commission also used a separate map of voters by race using 2020 census data, Belge said. The map, which was shown at Thursday’s meeting, helped to ensure that minority voting power was not diluted and divided among multiple districts, he continued.

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District A, which is on the south side of Syracuse, has a voting-age population that is 54% black, Belge said. District B is a predominantly Hispanic area and District C is largely made up of immigrants from Asia, he said.

Several other people present at the meeting shared their opinions on the impacts of redistricting on the neighborhood. People pleaded at the meeting to keep the Hawley Green neighborhood together in one district. Some participants also sought to keep the historic area of ​​Sedgwick-James-Highland in the same district as it is split between Districts C and D in the current draft.

I-81 was previously located in the middle of Districts 2, 3 and 4, but according to the new district maps, will act as a barrier between Districts A and E.

Belge said the upcoming community grid project and uncertainty about the future of his local neighborhoods has led the SCRC to use the highway as a barrier between districts.

“(The SCRC is) supposed to work with the population distribution as it is now, not make future projections,” Reeher said.

The commission also prioritized population distribution among the new districts in its process. Gaps between district populations should not exceed five percent of Syracuse’s total population, or about 1,500 people from the average, Belge said.

While redistricting is usually read through the prism of political power, Reeher said the process is unlikely to have a significant impact on Syracuse’s election results. The new map could potentially favor Democratic candidates, he continued.

“My feeling, just looking at them, is that minority communities are distributed a little less strategically in a way that helps Democrats,” Reeher wrote in an email. “Pre-existing compactness and boundaries are now elevated above the attempt to hold certain ethnic groups together, in order to generate Democratic neighborhoods.”

Common Councilor Patrick Hogan said he had hoped for more “radical change” in the form of more districts, with the intention that smaller constituencies would allow councilors to work more closely with their constituents. Hogan currently represents the District 2 Common Council.

“I represent seven different distinct neighborhoods that all have different needs, and their people have different ways of looking at things, and I just think we could be a lot more efficient as if we were all divided into quite different neighborhoods,” said said Hogan.

Participants at Thursday’s meeting reflected that concern, but commissioners said there are legal barriers to creating more districts. The commission also explained that it believed town councilors would better reflect the interests of the constituencies they serve by creating districts that do not dilute the voting power of minority groups.

Thursday’s meeting took place in person and was also streamed online. This was the fourth of five scheduled meetings. The SCRC’s final public meeting will take place on June 14 to gather feedback before the commission completes its final redesign of the maps. The meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the Southwest Community Center and will also have a virtual option.

The SCRC will hold two more public feedback sessions once the commission releases the newly drafted map. At the end of the sessions, the commission will make the necessary final modifications before sending the finalized maps to the Communal Council for approval.

If the Municipal Council rejects the final map proposal, it will come back to the SCRC to redraw. If approved by the council, the new map will come into effect for the next common council election in 2023. The maps are available for public viewing online.

“We saw the neighborhoods (of the minority community) from the census data, and we wanted to keep those neighborhoods intact as best we could, and I think we did a really good job,” Belge said. “We didn’t want to dilute the vote, we wanted to strengthen their vote.”

Contact Stephanie: [email protected]

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