Mayor Richards' Testimony on NY Senate Redistricting Plan - 2012

Thomas S. Richards, Mayor of RochesterTestimony of Mayor Thomas S. Richards
NYS Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment
February 15, 2012

Testiomy document

As Mayor of the City of Rochester, I am compelled to offer testimony in opposition to the Senate Redistricting Plan. The six districts proposed for Monroe County disregard the community of interest that is Monroe County and the City of Rochester. They dilute the ability of the significant minority community residing in the City of Rochester to influence the outcome of Senate elections and to gain the attention of those who would be elected in the proposed districts. Furthermore, they water down the impact of our regional economic development identity. I believe that the approval of these districts will significantly dilute the interest of the City and its residents.

Legislative redistricting is not intended to be a free hand exercise. We know that you have spent considerable time working on this. But I must ask you to carefully reconsider districts as proposed because they truly do need adjustments in order to better serve the interests of the City and the Region.

State and Federal Law establish the ground rules  -- and the ground rules have a purpose. They were designed to protect the community interest and rights of all voters. Applied properly, they will, and they must achieve those goals for Rochester and other communities in New York State.

Constitutional Issue -- Commitment to Community of Interest

The New York State Constitution addresses redistricting criteria to preserve communities of interest and prevent manipulation of the redistricting process. Federal rules mandate compliance with equal representation requirements through the “one person, one vote” requirement and the Voting Rights Act.

Article III, section 4, of the State Constitution addresses redistricting standards for the State Senate.

Its key provisions are that:

  1. Each district shall contain "as nearly as may be an equal number of inhabitants,"
  2. Each district shall "be in as compact form as practicable,"
  3. Each district shall “consist of contiguous territory,"
  4. "(N)o county shall be divided in the formation of a senate district except to make two or more senate districts wholly in such county,"
  5. "No town, … and no block in a city enclosed by streets or public ways, shall be divided in the formation of a senate district; nor shall any district contain a greater excess in population over an adjoining district in the same county , than the population of a town or block adjoining such district," and
  6. "(N)o county shall have four or more senators unless it shall have a full ratio for each senator.”

Click image to view gallery of maps
These provisions are worth reciting because they were important to the drafters of our Constitution. They placed high value on protecting the interest of local communities. I am afraid that the proposed districts, at least as they impact Monroe County and the City of Rochester, fail to meet these Constitutional standards and put the interest of our community at risk. It is my contention that the proposed adjustments or redistricting of several Senate Districts in the Rochester area violate one or more of these Constitutional requirements. Maps of the existing and proposed Senate Districts demonstrate these violations. 

Monroe County’s population as recorded by the Census Bureau stands at 744,344 people. Assuming 63 Senate Districts, each district should include approximately 307,600 people. Based on the Constitution’s mandate, Monroe County should include no more than 2.4 Senate Districts. There should not be portions of six districts in Monroe County. Only one is wholly within the County.

As drawn, the proposed Rochester area Senate Districts violate the Constitutional requirement that ‘‘no county shall have four or more senators unless it shall have a full ratio for each senator”. The proposed six-district formula violates the Constitution and is not in the best interest of the community.

The requirement that Districts be as compact as possible has clearly been violated in Districts 59 and 61; already long narrow districts, where District 59 has been extended substantially farther north, for the first time into Monroe County to include the Towns of Wheatland and Henrietta. District 61 has been extended eastward, also for the first time into Monroe County to include the Towns of Riga, Chili and a portion of the City of Rochester. In addition, District 55, which is relatively compact and comprised of most of the eastern and southern Towns of Monroe County, would now extend to the southernmost part of Ontario County.

Proposed District 56 clearly violates the spirit of the compactness requirement. The District is comprised primarily of the northwestern Towns of Monroe County and the northwestern section of the City of Rochester. This would now be connected through the southeast portion of the City by a tiny sliver of land, at one point about a block wide, to the southeastern Town of Brighton. This convoluted remapping occurred because a large section of the current District 56 in the City, which is substantially contiguous to the Town of Brighton, has now become part of proposed Erie County based District 61.

Adequacy of Representation of Minority Population and Critical Educational Institutions

Senate District 61 is being redrawn to include a substantial portion of the 19th Ward of the City. The 19th Ward is a recovering, predominantly minority neighborhood. It is also home to the City’s largest employer and economic driver, the University of Rochester. This section of the City and two Towns in Monroe County, Riga and Chili, will now be added to a District which begins in Amherst, Erie County, and includes all of Genesee County. I note that the Senator representing the current 61st District resides in Amherst, practices law out of offices located in Erie and Genesee Counties and was an Erie County legislator for nine years. The Senator’s personal, professional and legislative connections and interests are so rooted in the western portions of this district that the interests of the City of Rochester and its citizens will inevitably receive less attention and commitment from the Senator.

The proposed District 61 includes the public University of Buffalo and Erie Community College. Adding the private University of Rochester to this district presents a major concern to us. One Senator will be asked to shoulder the responsibility for two major universities and a major community college. Each of these universities has major initiatives underway and some of those initiatives may be competing for scarce resources. With the heaviest population concentration in the western part of the proposed district, we are justifiably concerned that Rochester and its most significant employer will be neglected. As Rochester’s largest employer and the entity responsible for generating much of the area’s new businesses and entrepreneurs, it is imperative that the University of Rochester and the City be represented by a Senator with an understanding of the University’s critical importance to the City of Rochester and the region. Even the most well-intentioned State Senator would have a hard time meeting the challenges presented by the proposed 61st District.

Of particular concern are the interests of our vibrant minority community in the urban neighborhood of the 19th Ward. This was a struggling neighborhood which is now experiencing a revitalization of both its residential and commercial areas. The interest of this community will certainly be diluted and minimized. I will come back to this subject.
Senate District 59 is being redrawn to add the Monroe County Towns of Wheatland and Henrietta for the first time. The current district includes Towns in Erie Wyoming, Livingston and Ontario Counties. Similar to the situation in the 61st District, the incumbent Senator has strong ties to his western New York community with long term law enforcement experience in Erie County, including elected office as the Erie County Sheriff, as well as his residency in Erie County. Given the District’s population distribution, it is likely that any successor to the incumbent will also come from the western most portions of the district, again minimizing the influence of the greater Rochester community. The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), which much like the University of Rochester, provides substantial employment and helps to generate many important start-up businesses in the Rochester area. Of particular concern is that RIT would now be located in a Senate District with a core community interest in the extreme western part of the district.
Henrietta and Wheatland are now represented by a Monroe County-based Senator as part of District 55. The current district includes portions of the eastside of the City of Rochester and Towns on the eastside of Monroe County. It is wholly within Monroe County. The proposed District 55 now includes towns stretching to the to the southern-most portion of Ontario County.

Specific Impact on Minority Community

I mentioned Rochester’s 19th Ward, with its significant minority population and its current revitalization. It is now part of Senate District 56 and is linked with other minority communities in the City which are also in the 56th District. These residents will be moved to the proposed Erie County-based 61st District. Similarly, residents of the northeast part of the City will be moved from the current 56th District to the 55th District. This plan divides Rochester’s minority population into three districts. As demonstrated in the demographic data in Attachment B, the African American constituency in District 56 will be reduced from 23.88% to 17.67%, a substantial dilution of this minority vote, which reduces the likelihood that these minority interests will be adequately represented. Their ability to influence state policy and elect minority candidates will be significantly reduced.
Section 2 of the Federal Voting Rights Act protects minority voters from practices and procedures that deprive them of an effective vote because of their race, color, or membership in a particular language minority group. As drawn, the proposed 55th, 56th, and 61st Senate Districts represent a significant dilution of minority voters in the Rochester region.

Regional Identity Issue

In addition to the above concerns about the impact of the proposed redistricting on the City’s minority population and on our major educational institutions, the new districts do not consider and, in fact, run contrary to the recognized development of regions in New York State. Soon after taking office, Governor Cuomo announced the creation of ten Regional Economic Development Councils (Regional Councils) as part of the plan to drive economic development in the State. The Regional Councils were based on existing regions established by Empire State Development and the New York State Department of Labor. When describing the benefits of this regional approach to development, a Regional Councils’ publication pointed out that the federal government is increasingly looking to regional strategies for its public programs and funding, specifically identifying the U.S. Economic Development Administration, HUD, the Small Business Administration and the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Labor and Transportation, as federal agencies supporting regional initiatives.

As set forth in New York State Economic Development Law Article 11, Section 230, the regions established by Empire State Development are based on the following factors: (a) interdependence and commonality of economic and social interests; (b) previous cooperation in economic development related matters; (c) intraregional commuting and transportation patterns; (d) geographic proximity to and dependence on centers of employment and economic opportunity, population concentration and markets; (e) unifying topographic characteristics; (f) labor markets; and (g) geographic size. The State uses these regional designations to accept applications for and coordinate state economic development programs.

The New York State Department of Labor uses these same regional designations, known as Labor Market Regions (LMR). Each LMR provides us with data about wages, economic trends and labor availability in the region and provides this data to employers, developers and others. They also provide career and job information to job seekers.

While the State has clearly recognized that the regional approach ensures a targeted yet comprehensive way to govern, with a commonality of interests among the constituents of a region, the proposed legislative redistricting totally disregards these important principals. The City Rochester, located in Monroe County, is surrounded by eight other counties which comprise the Finger Lakes Region. A Regional Councils’ publication, describes the Finger Lakes Region as “named for the 11 long, narrow lakes through the southern counties, the Finger Lakes also includes the City of Rochester, the third largest city in New York State… Rochester is an international center of higher education, medical and technological development, with acclaimed universities such as the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as major corporations such as Xerox, Kodak and Bausch & Lomb. Outside the Rochester area, agriculture (especially dairy farming) is an important economic driver.”

The redistricting of Senate Districts 59 and 61 clearly disregards the values and importance of regional identity. Both districts, which commence in the Western New York District, where both incumbent senators are based, currently extend into the Finger Lakes Region. However, the redistricting extends them farther into the Region by adding Towns in Monroe County as well as part of the City of Rochester. Furthermore, those extensions into Monroe County extend to the heart of the Region, as described above, to “the acclaimed universities such as the University and the Rochester Institute of Technology.”

The undeniable benefit of regional identity--specifically Rochester’s identification with the Finger Lakes Region, for the purposes of the economic development which is so critical to the City, the County and the Region--will be harmed by redistricting which ignores such regional identity.

Rochester is an important community in this state. We are working hard at making a comeback. We cannot afford to have our community interests placed at risk and we are concerned that the proposed Senate Districts will do just that. We cannot expect our community to be adequately represented in the State Senate by legislators with little or no understanding of the needs and interests of the Rochester community. Urban minority neighborhoods deserve and require representation that has an understanding of unique urban problems and minority concerns. Our major educational institutions--of such critical importance to the economic health of the Rochester area—also require proper representation that fully understands their roles and does not have potentially conflicting interests.