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Onondaga County Legislature Democrats Say Contentious Reapportionment Process Could Have Been Less Partisan

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Scott Willis
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WAER News
Legislator Chris Ryan was joined by most members of the democratic caucus, including Vernon Williams, Jr., Floor Leader Linda Ervin, Peggy Chase, and Mary Kuhn. They were also joined by Syracuse Common Councilor Joe Driscoll. Legislator Bill Kinne had a medical appointment.

Democratic members of the Onondaga County Legislature are pointing out “what might have been” if the reapportionment process was independent and led by citizens .  The caucus is also taking issue with remarks from the county executive. 

Legislator Chris Ryan introduced a measure 16 months ago that would have changed the county charter and removed politics and politicians from the redistricting process. It failed along party lines. Now, he says, we’re witnessing the exact opposite.

"I personally would call it a hyper-partisan political process that we just endured and are about to vote on on Friday. And it didn't have to be that way."

Ryan took issue with County Executive Ryan McMahon’s dismissal of any notion that the process could have been less political and more collaborative between the two sides.

"Both sides are never going to agree. That premise is zero. It's just never going to happen," McMahon said when questioned last week by this reporter about whether common ground could be found on the maps.

"I have more faith in county government than that," said Legislator Ryan. "Will we ever achieve citizen-led redistricting? I don't think so. I wish we would. But coming together a little bit more would have been nice. I don't believe in absolutes and I don't think we have zero ability to do that. The county citizens expect more of us."

The City of Syracuse has adopted a citizen-led, independent process that’s currently underway. Common Councilor Joe Driscoll says it’s a matter of best policy and practice.

"Voters should be choosing their representatives; representatives shouldn't be choosing their voters. There's an inherent conflict of interest when legislators are drawing their own maps and deciding who's in their district and who isn't."

County Lawmakers are scheduled to take up the maps in a special session Friday, but not until one of the last public hearings Wednesday evening. Legislator Mary Kuhn encourages everyone to look at the maps.

"I have been encouraging people to come, talk about what you see in terms of your community. I don't know if it will make a difference at all. But the legislators who haven't been at those meetings should hear from the people."

The reapportionment commission finished its work last week after a series of very contentious and controversial meetings. At public hearings, an overwhelming majority of residents expressed dismay over the rushed, partisan process and its threat to county democracy. Most members of the democratic caucus indicated they’ll vote “no” on the maps as proposed, but held out hope for some meaningful changes.

The next public hearing will be held Wednesday evening at 6 in legislature chambers in the courthouse on Montgomery Street downtown. 

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Onondaga County
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This is the GOP's proposed map.