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Federal lawsuit filed over Monroe County Legislature redistricting stalemate

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A group of Democrats has filed a federal lawsuit that seeks to end the Monroe County Legislature’s prolonged and contentious redistricting process.

The lawsuit asks a judge to appoint a special master to draw a plan for new legislative districts. The case has been referred to mediation, which is a common step in civil lawsuits.

The County Legislature has passed two redistricting plans over the past year, one at the end of 2021 and the other this past October. County Executive Adam Bello has vetoed both. The complaint says that the “failure to approve a reapportioned legislative map” means "the elections to all 29 seats in the Monroe County Legislature in 2023 will be thrown into a quagmire absent immediate court intervention.”

Among the plaintiffs are Lynda Garner Goldstein, a former county legislator who lives in Brighton; Michael DiTullio, a Webster teacher who ran for a Legislature seat this year and is considering another run, the complaint states; Shirley Thompson, a Rochester resident and former president of the city school board; and Angelina Rivera, a Rochester resident.

The plaintiffs say they want to vote in the 2023 primary and general elections, communicate with potential candidates, and possibly volunteer for or contribute to candidates. They argue that they are prevented from doing any of those things because they are unable to “discern” the districts they reside in or who will be the Legislature candidates for those districts.
Monroe County Legislature President Sabrina LaMar has introduced a proposal to create six Legislature districts where Black residents would be in the majority. Shown here is a zoomed-in view of the proposed city districts. - ILLUSTRATION PROVIDED
  • ILLUSTRATION PROVIDED
  • Monroe County Legislature President Sabrina LaMar has introduced a proposal to create six Legislature districts where Black residents would be in the majority. Shown here is a zoomed-in view of the proposed city districts.
The lawsuit follows a pair of redistricting proposals released last week, both of which would create six city districts where the majority of residents are Black. One was advanced by Legislature President Sabrina LaMar and the other by Bello. Both officials said they hoped the proposals would lead to negotiations, but each has criticized the other’s plan.

Bello and LaMar released their plans after Bello vetoed divisive redistricting legislation that the Legislature passed earlier this year.

That plan, which supporters had dubbed the “Crescent Map,” would have created five majority-Black districts in the neighborhoods north of downtown Rochester. LaMar and Democratic Legislator Rachel Barnhart championed the plan, which they said would increase the power of Black voters in historically neglected and marginalized neighborhoods and make it easier for them to elect their preferred candidates.
Last week, County Executive Adam Bello released a redistricting proposal that included six majority-Black districts. - IMAGE PROVIDED
  • IMAGE PROVIDED
  • Last week, County Executive Adam Bello released a redistricting proposal that included six majority-Black districts.
The Legislature passed that proposal in October by a vote of 17 to 12, with most Democrats in opposition. But Bello vetoed the measure, writing in his memo that the plan “reduces opportunities for communities of color to elect their candidates of choice to the County Legislature” and that it had “equitable and legal flaws.”

The lawsuit can be withdrawn if the Legislature enacts a redistricting plan that satisfies the plaintiffs. In a statement, Bello called on legislators to act quickly and said that he is “ready and willing to work with them.”

“People are frustrated, and I understand why,” Bello said. “But it doesn’t have to be this way. The time has come to put politics aside and sit down together to negotiate a map that puts our community first. "

The Crescent Coalition, a group that formed to support the five majority-Black district map that Bello vetoed, said in a statement that it plans to file a lawsuit of its own this week to ensure any court-drawn map has six majority-Black districts and complies with key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that are intended to protect the rights of minority voters.

"We’re so disappointed that this county executive does not care about racial equity and would rather posture than implement truly racially remedial policy," coalition member Brighton Town Councilmember Robin Wilt said in the statement.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's deputy editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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