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Downsizing the County Legislature

This Friday, April 29, is the deadline for members of the commission charged with downsizing the Erie County Legislature from 15 to 11 districts that conform with the new Census numbers to submit their proposals for the entire commission to review. The commission will discuss those proposals in a session on Monday, May 2. Next Friday, May 6, is the deadline for members of the public to submit their proposals, which the commission will discuss on May 9. On May 11, there will be a public hearing on all the proposals at ECC’s downtown campus.

Dennis Ward, the Democratic commissioner of the Erie County Board of Elections, is the only member of the commission to submit proposals so far. In fact, he’s submitted 10 maps that show how the legislature could be downsized to 11 districts without dividing town and villages whose populations are equal to or less than 110 percent of the average size of the new districts—that is, about 90,000 people. State law requires that the division of such towns be avoided. Ward suspects that the Republican appointees to the commission intend to divide towns and villages for political purposes—as, it must be said, Democrats have done in the past—in order to create Republican-friendly districts.

Take the Town of Tonawanda, for example: With 73,567 people, it’s too small to be divided, but contains the Democratic strongholds of Kenmore and the City of Tonawanda, which are a drag on a Republican candidate. The town is too large to absorb the 20,374 people living in the Town of Grand Island, which is filled with Republicans who would make that seat safer for, say, Republican legislator Kevin Hardwick. You can’t dump the Democratic City of Tonawanda into some other district, because it’s an island within the Town, and that’s illegal too—districts must be connected and compact.

But if you’re willing to divide municipalities, then you could carve out Democratic Kenmore and attach it to an otherwise Buffalo-based district. That would give you some wiggle room, population-wise, to attach the Republican-voting population of Grand Island to Hardwick’s district.

In a similar fashion, Republicans might want to carve out the Democratic voters in the northern part of Hamburg and attach them to Democrats in Lackawanna, creating a safer Republican district that includes the village’s southern reaches.

If you want to check out the work the commission is doing, visit its website:

geoff kelly

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