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Monroe County legislators joust over who draws district lines


Outside of the Monroe County Legislative Chambers. - PHOTO CREDIT JAMES BROWN, WXXI NEWS
  • Outside of the Monroe County Legislative Chambers.
The members of the Monroe County Legislature are in a bind.

Every 10 years, county lawmakers form their own commission to redraw legislative district lines according to census data. But the U.S. Census Bureau will likely not be able to provide the data required to redraw those lines until the second quarter of next year.

Republican Majority Leader Steve Brew said Wednesday that’s too late for politicians running in June primaries to know which boundaries they can collect petitions within. That’s why last week, Republicans and the new Democratic Black and Asian Caucus voted 20-9 to extend legislators' terms. The bill would extend the terms set to expire next year until 2023, then return to a four-year cycle.

Brew said both Albany and Onondaga counties are considering similar measures. He said he’d prefer that the state take action.

“If the state would change the deadline dates on the political calendar now,” said Brew, “it would still permit us to have that census data. Everything would fall into place as it normally would have.”

But Brew said that any state action is a long shot.

County Democratic Minority Leader Yversha Roman said in a news conference Wednesday that extending terms could be unlawful and lead to litigation. She and her caucus plans to push for an amendment to the bill in a few weeks in hopes to fix larger issues that she said hurt residents and help “self-serving” politicians.

“So what’s happening is cities, villages, towns, are being cut up to be represented by one legislator as opposed to moving the lines to make more sense,” Roman said. “They’re saying, ‘I think I can win the majority if these lines are drawn like this.’ So what’s happening is that individuals aren’t being served, but the politicians in order for them to win are.

“We can only see this as exacerbating the reality of the issues facing city districts that are already underrepresented by legislators,” she continued.

Roman and the Democratic caucus announced their support of County Executive Adam Bello’s independent redistricting commission concept.

Roman said Bello’s independent commission would bring more transparency to the process.

“Our constituents deserve to be represented equally on a one-person per one-vote basis," Roman said in a statement. “Having representation suffer for 10 years because of lack of transparency in the process is not how we want to continue to do business. Let’s be mindful of our actions, inclusive, and fair.”

Brew, who watched Roman’s news conference, said her assessment is unfair, especially her comments about underrepresentation.

“I completely disagree with that," Brew said. "That almost makes it sound that county politics mirrors politics on a higher level, and it certainly does not.”

He said the Republicans and the Democratic Black and Asian Caucus feel strongly that the power stays in the Legislature instead of with appointees.

“That legislative process is that way because those legislators who are responsible for drawing those lines are elected,” said Brew. “So their accountability is through the ballot box. I’ve had many discussions regarding this, and these are not only my personal feelings but a very broad base view among, I would say, at least 20 of the 29 legislators.”

James Brown is a reporter for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY. He can be reached at