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Politics and Government

Syracuse council looks at independent redistricting

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
The Syracuse Common Council.

The Syracuse Common Council is exploring the idea of having an independent commission redraw the city council’s district lines, following the 2020 census. The council currently draws its own lines.

Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, said Syracuse could be the first city east of the Mississippi River, to have an independent redistricting commission. She said the city could be a model for the rest of the state.

“It depoliticizes redistricting," Lerner said. "It increases public engagement and transparency. It improves community representation and it can also, when properly done, improve minority representation.”

Lerner said an independent redistricting process would include public involvement and a list of priorities to guide mapmakers.

"The commissioners are independent and impartial, that they represent the diversity of Syracuse and that there are neighborhood and community-centric criteria," Lerner said. "Strong transparency and public participation is very important."

Lerner spoke to councilors after a study session Wednesday. The council’s only Republican, Joe Carni, walked out on Lerner, saying the topic was sprung on him at the last second and it warrants a public committee meeting.

Some of the Democratic city councilors took issue with the Onondaga County Legislature’s district lines, which they said, gerrymanders parts of Syracuse. Council President Helen Hudson said constituents can’t trust elected officials, when one county district in particular, stretches from the western suburbs of the town of Geddes, to the city’s south side.

“Continuity with it; to ensure that it’s not heavy on one side, where you have more disenfranchised people, and then you populate it with the folks that’s going to go vote," Hudson said. "You gerrymander that district to benefit you and suit your needs.”

To amend the city’s charter on redistricting, a referendum would have to be voted on by the public.