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Onondaga County Lawmakers Approve Revised GOP-Drawn District Maps; Aquarium Pulled

This is the revised GOP-drawn Onondaga County Legislature district map.
Onondaga County
This is the revised GOP-drawn Onondaga County Legislature district map.

Onondaga County lawmakers for a second time Tuesday approved GOP-drawn legislative district maps that could influence representation for the next decade.  The debate didn’t change much from earlier drafts.

The vote was close, 9 to 8, with two republicans joining democrats in voting no. One of them was Jim Rowley, who, like many others, expressed frustration with the process. While he was glad the public was able to weigh in, Rowley was disappointed that lawmakers themselves weren’t able to discuss the local laws before they landed on the agenda, as is protocol.

"It didn't go to committee, so we didn't have an opportunity to debate it. As a legislative body, I would have loved to hear whoever drew the republican maps what they thinking was, what the theory was behind them. Same thing with the democratic maps. Let's have an opportunity to ask questions."

Rowley says he informally offered his input on the first draft, but he didn’t get a response. Ken Bush was the other republican to vote no.

On the other side of the aisle, Chris Ryan repeated a concern about fair representation expressed by his democratic colleagues and members of the public.

"I think some towns are unnecessarily broken up. Communities of interest are broken up. There are villages that should have a representative in their backyard instead of on the other side of a lake."

He’s referring to proposed district four, which extends from Solvay and Geddes, up and around the northern part of Onondaga Lake, and back down to Salina.

Republican Chairman Dave Knapp has defended the process and the GOP maps, including the redrawn 16th district on the city’s south side. Democrats say the new lines dilute the African American vote, but Knapp disagrees.

"The new state laws talks about minorities in general; it does not break down groups within minorities. So from a minority standpoint, that district is well over 72 percent. The African American percentage is 48 percent, which makes it by far the largest individual group within that district."

That means the proposed map no longer includes a majority African American district.

The map now heads to the county executive, who will once again hold public hearing before he approves or vetoes it. There’s also a chance the map could face legal challenges.

The three months of raucous reapportionment committee meetings, public hearings, and multiple draft maps has Chris Ryan wondering how things might have been different under his independent redistricting commission proposal of last year.

"When that law was defeated, I didn't have a lot of faith that this process was going to be any different than it just was. It would have done wonders for our community, and would have saved us all of this. All of this."


The other controversial item on the legislature’s agenda was pulled for apparent lack of support. The $85 million aquarium could return for debate next month. Speakers at Tuesday’s session told lawmakers there are better ways to spend the combination of county savings and federal pandemic relief funds. Legislators also questioned many of the optimistic projections in a feasibility study, and wanted more information.

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