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Syracuse's Redistricting Commission Takes Politics Out Of The Process, Uses Expert Guidance To Help Redraw Lines

City of Syracuse

For most of the past several weeks, we’ve heard how the controversial redistricting process has unfolded in Onondaga County.  It’s been a largely partisan affair, with a flurry of meetings and hearings that generated strong criticism and resulted in what Democrats see as a partisan map favoring Republicans.  But many might not know the City of Syracuse is redrawing council district lines using a far more independent and deliberate approach.

City Auditor Nader Maroun is overseeing the independent commission.

"Ultimately that has an impact when you have volunteer citizens versus politically appointed by designated parties. The city has tried to keep politics out of this altogether. The city councilors have not been involved. My office has been the manager, if you will, to this point."

The 15 commissioners meet every two weeks. All applied for the job, and had to meet strict eligibility criteria. The first 8 were chosen at random by Maroun. They then chose the remaining 7. They recently enlisted the services of New York Law School and SUNY New Paltz to provide technical and legal guidance.

"It's probably good to have some additional consulting capabilities that the individual citizens on the commission wouldn't necessarily have. I think it's worthwhile. This is something that will last a decade."

Maroun says the commissioners will do most of the work.

"They have to get the census data. They have to look at the current status of the district. They have to provide all of the data. The technical assistance they're receiving is to say, OK, based on the data that you provide from your city and the census, this is how this would fit into it. Is that the model that you want. It'll be up to to the commissioners to make the recommendations, not the outside group."

Maroun says the support is warranted since these are uncharted waters. Syracuse is believed to be the first city east of the Mississippi to take this approach.

"It gives the voters confidence that this is being done properly, and it's being done in a non-partisan way for our best interest. What better model or policy could you have than that?"

Many believe that’s not what happened at the county level. County Executive Ryan McMahon even rejected the original map and sent it back to lawmakers to make changes. Maroun says it remains to be seen if legislators will be objective as they draw up a new map. The legislature's clerk tells WAER there are no meetings scheduled to consider the map.

City of Syracuse

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