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Russell Weaver: Demographer / Politico

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Russell Weaver: Demographer / Politico

A former legislative staffer in City Hall, Russell “Rusty” Weaver is an instructor of Statistics and Economics at the University at Buffalo and Niagara County Community College. Most recently he served as one of nine members on the Buffalo Citizens Commission for Reapportionment. He cast the sole vote against the Commission’s recommended redistricting plan, which passed 5-1 earlier in the week.

What does a demographer do?

Demographers are fundamentally human population scientists. They examine the sizes, distributions, and compositions of human populations. The three main processes to which demographers attribute population changes are births, deaths, and migration. Quite simply, populations change over time because individuals are born, die, and relocate within and between regions.

Why is redistricting important?

Broadly speaking, political redistricting is the act of crafting new and/or modifying existing electoral and legislative boundaries in response to changing population conditions. The process occurs every ten years, and is facilitated by the release of updated population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Redistricting is important in that states, counties, cities, etc. are dynamic. Population shifts are occurring constantly, and depending upon the relative magnitudes and locations of these shifts, certain individuals and areas of a given political district can become over- or underrepresented through time. Redrawing political and legislative boundaries is a reflection of such dynamism and is intended to ensure that every person’s vote is approximately equal.

Explain how the plan affects districts in the city.

The proposal of the Buffalo Citizens Commission on Reapportionment is based on a strategy of maintaining, as closely as possible, the boundaries and compositions of the existing Common Council Districts. That said, the recommended districts are similar to those in the current configuration, but district boundaries are expanded or contracted where necessary. For instance, the northern districts, which were overpopulated relative to the target number of individuals, saw their southern boundaries move north, while more central districts expanded in all directions.

Why did you vote against the recommended redistricting?

During my time on the Commission I pushed an agenda of bringing neighborhoods to the forepart of the redistricting discourse. While the Commission’s proposal is thoughtful and coheres with traditional redistricting criteria, I feel that it has a greater interest in attaining numerical outcomes than in unifying the voices of communities of interest in the political and governmental processes in Buffalo.

What would have had to change in order for you to vote for it?

A colleague of mine and I will be filing an alternative proposal with the City Clerk’s office this week. In it we adopt a strategy of establishing legislative districts that are essentially combinations of the planning communities delineated and defined by the Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning. Such an approach, we feel, will do well to align policy interests within Common Council Districts as well as reduce the incentives and opportunities to engage in politically-motivated redistricting activities. Our recommendations were written with no consideration for preserving political power, and every consideration given to empowering citizens and communities in Buffalo. This is the type of methodology I advocated for on the Commission. A greater adherence to these principles would have enabled me to vote for the Commission’s proposal and remain consistent with my beliefs.

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