Syracuse Common Councilors Monday took what’s being seen as a bold first step to give city residents the power to draw the boundaries of the five council districts. The 7 to 1 vote to change the city charter makes Syracuse the first city east of the Mississippi to allow independent, non-partisan redistricting.
The model under consideration is similar to those adopted in California and Austin, Texas. At-large councilor Khalid Bey says it’s a no-brainer.
"If we're talking about increasing participation; if we're talking about making people feel like they have some say; and most importantly, when you talk about returning the power to the people and away from the political games, to be quite blunt...this is it."
Councilor Joe Carni was the lone no vote. Previously, sitting city councilors have re-drawn district lines, which was likely motivated in part by self-interest and politics. The current boundaries have been in place since 2001. Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny says a lot has changed since then.
"Populations have shifted. Communities have shifted. We have a huge, growing New American contingent growing on the north side. How those communities have changed is important, and that's what redistricting is about. And for the first time, the citizens are going to have direct input on this."
Czarny says the first and fifth districts have seen significant growth and are over-populated, while others have shrunk. All legislative districts, from the local to federal level, are supposed to represent the same number of people.
The charter change will go before city residents for a vote this fall. If approved, public hearings will be held in the lead up to an ordinance expected to be taken up by the council in January that would set rules about establishing a committee of residents who will draw the new lines. They’ll be based geographic location, demographics, and other information provided by the results of the 2020 census. The newly redrawn map wouldn’t take effect until the local election of 2023.