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Syracuse's Independent Redistricting Commission Takes Shape, Prepares To Set Example For Others

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Fairmaps CNY was among the organizations that called for an independent redistricting commission. The council district lines haven't been redrawn in 20 years.

The first eight members of Syracuse’s independent redistricting commission are preparing to take the next step in the citizen-led process to re-draw council district lines. They already have one meeting behind them, and they’ll hold a second meeting next week to begin to round out the commission.

City Auditor Nader Maroun is overseeing the creation of the commission as required by the enabling legislation. He says it seems fitting.

"I was involved in setting term limits back when I was on the council in the mid-80s. This is a natural evolution for me."

He says the city received more than 100 applicants for 15 slots, 67 of whom were qualified. The initial eight names were chosen randomly two weeks ago, and he says they come from diverse backgrounds.

"The group is very committed and excited about doing the work. In fact, some of them had done a lot of research in advance. I'm very encouraged and optimistic that they understand their role."

They’ll be meeting on Monday to begin the process of choosing the remaining seven members. They must be in place by July 31st. Syracuse is believed to be the largest city east of the Mississippi to be embarking on a citizen-led effort to redraw district lines. Maroun says they can set an example for cities nationwide…or even here at home.

"I said to the group, 'you have an opportunity to be a leader.' Let the City of Syracuse be a leader, and show that it's not threatening, its a good process, and the citizenry is involved. Hopefully it'll be a catalyst for the county legislature to undertake the same procedure."

Onondaga County considered, then rejected a similar independent effort to redraw legislative district lines. Proponents say the idea behind a citizen-led commission is to take politics out of the process and not let lawmakers gerrymander districts to essentially choose their voters. Once the city commission is seated, Maroun says the members will study best practices of other cities before holding public hearings through the fall to gather input for a redistricting plan. A draft is expected early next year, which will be followed by more public comment. Common councilors are supposed to approve the final plan by May 1st. It’ll take effect for the 2023 elections.