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Warren weighs in on controversial redistricting plan, scolds its Democratic opponents


The Monroe County Legislature will soon vote on a proposed redistricting map. Shown is a countywide view of the proposed districts and a cut out of the proposed city districts. - GRAPHIC BY JACOB WALSH
  • The Monroe County Legislature will soon vote on a proposed redistricting map. Shown is a countywide view of the proposed districts and a cut out of the proposed city districts.
Former Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren entered the fray around a controversial proposal to redraw County Legislature districts on Wednesday, excoriating Democratic legislators who oppose the plan.

During a hearing on the matter held in the Legislature’s chambers, Warren echoed many of the same points that other supporters of the plan have made, namely that the redrawing would create five districts with a majority of Black voters out of the impoverished, heavily Black neighborhoods that ring downtown Rochester

“I never thought I would see the day when Democrats are arguing harder than Republicans about supporting five strong districts that could potentially allow a person of color to be elected in that district,” Warren said during her remarks. “I know the late, great Assemblyman David Gantt is rolling over in his grave right now just listening to the rhetoric and the lies being spewed about redistricting by the Democratic side of the aisle.”

The plan Warren spoke on has been championed by two Democrats, Legislature President Sabrina LaMar and Legislator Rachel Barnhart. LaMar is a political ally of Warren’s who caucuses with the GOP.
Former Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. - FILE PHOTO
  • Former Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren.
The remaining 13 Democratic legislators oppose the plan. They argue that by concentrating Black voters in five districts, instead of creating more minority-majority coalition districts, the plan could dilute the voting power of other minorities in those neighborhoods, particularly the growing Latino population. They’ve also argued that it unfairly cuts up several city neighborhoods.

The proposal will likely be put to vote during the Oct. 11 meeting of the Legislature.

Much of the debate around the plan has been couched in the Voting Rights Act, a set of federal laws passed to prevent the disenfranchisement of Black voters and members of other racial or language minority groups.

Angelica Perez-Delgado, president and CEO of Ibero American Action League, said during the hearing that the Voting Rights Act falls short on protecting and understanding the intricacies of Latino voters. Perez-Delgado is also co-chair of the Latinx Leaders Roundtable, which issued a statement opposing the plan and stating that it might challenge it in court if it becomes law.

“We should ensure political will of both the Black and Latino community and should be intentional when thinking about preserving the voting powers of this community,” Perez-Delgado said.

As she urged legislators to support the map, the Rev. Myra Brown, pastor at Spiritus Christi Church, agreed that the Voting Rights Act falls short in protecting Latinos, but said that is not a reason to refrain from empowering Black voters. She added that the proposed map isn’t drawing lines according to racial categories, but rather “acknowledges where Black voters live and how concentrated and compact they are in this Crescent community.”

“The truth is that the opposition to this dilutes, neglects, and fractures the voting justice due to the Black community,” she said later in her remarks.

Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and a redistricting expert, said the Voting Rights Act is an incredibly complicated law that is often misunderstood or misrepresented. The laws are primarily concerned with performance, meaning that minority groups can elect their preferred candidates without being blocked by white voters who may prefer another candidate.

“You can’t draw districts just based on race,” Li said. “You can’t join Black voters who have nothing in common other than the fact that they are Black together, just under the assumption that all Black people belong in a Black district.”

However, race can be a factor in drawing districts around cohesive populations, Li said. In that case, districts might also be drawn around populations that experience similar levels of poverty, that send their children to the same schools, or that live in the same neighborhoods.

Democratic caucus leaders have asked County Executive Adam Bello to veto the plan should it be sent to him, but Bello has not said whether he will do so. He has indicated that the proposed lines trouble him.

“We’re going to look very carefully at this to make sure that votes are not being disenfranchised by packing into fewer districts than what’s necessary,” Bello said earlier this month.

This article has been updated to correct an error regarding legislators' roles in advancing the redistricting proposal.

Jeremy Moule is CITY’s deputy editor. He can be reached at