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Syracuse lawmakers approve new Common Council districts drawn by citizen-led commission

Ellen Abbott

Syracuse Common Councilors made history Monday, approving new council districts drawn by a citizen-led independent commission.

It was 2019 when Syracuse residents overwhelmingly voted to take the redistricting process out of the hands of politicians, and place it in the hands of a 15-member, all-volunteer group. On Monday, Syracuse lawmakers voted 5-4 to approve the map that group came up with, and the closeness of the vote didn’t faze commission Vice Chair John Hamblin.

"Our work was unprecedented in New York state and east of the Mississippi. Politicians just don’t like to give up their power,” said Hamblin.

The four lawmakers who voted against the maps, were those who would be most affected: district councilors as opposed to at-large councilors who represent the entire city.

Fourth District councilor Latoya Allen went back and forth about her decision, ultimately feeling it shouldn’t be in her hands.

“I feel like the power should have been back in the hands of voters, and they should have voted on this,” Allen said.

First District Councilor Jennifer Schultz agreed.

“Leave us out of it, because, excuse my French, we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t,” said Schultz. “Because if we say yes to the maps then we are in cahoots with somebody. If we say no then it’s a personal agenda for me. But no, it’s about the people, it comes from the people and ends with the people"

There were also some disagreements on some of the particulars in the maps, but in the end the experiment in citizen-led redistricting carried the day.

"Will our process be a template? Sure,” said Hamblin. “But there’s also things to learn and hopefully the next commission will learn from the roadblocks we came up across, and overcome them better than we did."

Onondaga County Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny thinks other governments could follow suit.

"I think this is a win for citizen-led redistricting, and I think people across the state are going to be looking at this."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.