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Syracuse's independent redistricting commission is a big deal but few people seem to care

City Hall
Max Mimaroglu
/
WAER News
Syracuse City Hall. 2/14/22. (Photos by Max Mimaroglu)

Syracuse’s independent redistricting commission has scheduled its first five public meetings in an effort to inform and engage the community in their work. The volunteer commissioners have already been stopping by neighborhood meetings to get the word out.

It is reasonable that the target audience for Syracuse City Redistricting Commission's work would be residents involved in neighborhood groups such as Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today, known as TNT. But at a recent virtual commission meeting, Melody Holmes said so far, people seem generally indifferent.

“I have been talking to people, and the interest is exceptionally weak. I haven’t received a lot of feedback, but I know from past experiences, there will be people saying, ‘why didn’t we hear about this.’ I want to know what we need to do to waylay that in the beginning.”

The commissioners discussed additional ways to reach out to the community, including social media, traditional media, faith-based organizations, elected city leaders and nonprofit groups. Commissioner Bruce Shefrin said they have plenty to brag about.

“The distinction between what we’re trying to do and what the county has done, and in fact how states have dealt with their responsibilities is worth getting emotional about. It seems to me there’s something we can sell here in terms of the difference that we have as a commission.”

Syracuse is one of only a handful of governments in the nation to adopt an independent redistricting model and is believed to be the first city east of the Mississippi River to do so. Onondaga County’s process was largely criticized as partisan and messy, resulting in GOP-drawn maps that are now facing legal action. Gerald Benjamin, redistricting expert and founder of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, told commissioners not to underestimate their role in democracy.

“I was interviewed by a journalist in the national media recently, and he asked me, ‘How important is this redistricting?’ I said, ‘It’s life or death for democracy in America. ‘Is it more important than 9/11?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. 9/11 was an external enemy. This is an internal enemy. People are trying to destroy democracy.’ You’re on the line demonstrating how to do it right. That’s a big deal!”

The commission’s first public meeting will be held on March 18 at The Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central. The others are as follows:

• March 26 at PSLA at Fowler

• April 7 at Henninger High School

• April 24 at Corcoran High School

• April 28 at Nottingham High School

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.