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Letter to Colleagues Re Local Law D

Letter to Colleagues Re Local Law D

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Published by: tulocalpolitics on Feb 20, 2013
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07/05/2013

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C
ITY
 
OF
A
LBANY
C
OMMON
C
OUNCIL
February 20, 2013Dear Council Colleagues,
We are writing to request that Local Law D be sent back to the Council Operations andEthics Committee for a thorough and thoughtful review of the ReapportionmentCommission's map based on the concerns expressed by Albany residents at the January7 Common Council public hearing.
In preparing this letter, we reviewed the Commission'sletter and the enclosures dated December 16, 2012 that were submitted to the CommonCouncil. We commend the Reapportionment Commission for their public process, their informative website, and their many hours of volunteer work on behalf of our city's residents.The effort to create six majority-minority wards reflects the population of the city. We consultedcase law and reviewed the following publications of the Brennan Center for Justice of the NewYork University School of Law:
 A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting 
[i]and “Redistricting andTransparency: Recommendations for Redistricting Authorities and CommunityOrganizations”[ii], which affirmed many of the citizen-focused practices used by theCommission. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law andpolicy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice. There is moreinformation about the work of the Brennan Center on their website:http://www.brennancenter.org. The Commission stated that it considered the following principles: (i) the Constitutional mandateof one person, one vote; (ii) the statutory requirements imposed by section 2 of the VotingRights Act; (iii) protecting communities of interest; (iv) ensuring that districts are compact andcontiguous; and (v) respecting existing districts, physical boundaries, and incumbency. TheCommission focused on the Federal Voting Rights Act Section 2 which prohibits any votingpractice or procedure which has a discriminatory result, and stated its charge as being taskedwith ensuring that residents receive the fairest representation. Albany residents made clear at the January 7 Common Council public hearing that there werefour areas of concern with the Commission's map, and that the proposed map broke uplongstanding communities of interest.
“Redistricting and Transparency” discusses theimportance of communities of interest stating
,
"...we must require those drawing thedistricts to recognize and preserve communities of interest. This is key to assuring fairer and more representative outcomes that does not splinter and weaken communities."
(Brennan 1)The Commission also stated that the proposed lines were drawn "with an eye towards ensuringthat the proposal strictly adhered to the constitutional mandate of one person, one vote. For thatreason, the district populations in the Commission’s proposal range from 6,433 to 6,612-- noneof the wards have a population deviation that is greater than 1.41%.
 A Citizen's Guide toRedistricting 
discusses the pros and cons of very small population deviations and states, "...
1
 
rigid equal population rules can force districts to cut up communities: if every districtmust be exactly the same size, a district may have to carve out part of a town or countyor neighborhood."
(Levitt 45)
This appears to be the exact concern of Albany neighborswith the proposed plan.
 Although the Voting Rights Act does not state a specific alloweddeviation, the Courts have ruled on the issue of deviations of population numbers. In 1964 theUnited States Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims,377 US 533 , ruled that Alabama’s state redistricting plan that had population deviance ratios of one to fourteen was unconstitutional.However the Court in that case declared that “mathematical exactness” was not required.Following the Reynolds case, the Courts generally established that absent evidence of discriminatory intent, a deviation of 5% over or under the norm population in municipal districtswas not a violation of the “one person – one vote” principle. In 1971, in Abate v. Mundt, 403 US182, the United States Supreme Court in an opinion written by Justice Thurgood Marshall,affirmed as constitutional a Rockland County New York redistricting plan with a slightly higher deviation than the 5% over or under the norm. The decision cited the particular needs of communities of interest.
Additionally, the fact that the section of the Park South neighborhood was moved after all three of the Commission's public hearings should not be ignored by the Council. Thatsection of Park South shares significantly more interests with their neighbors onMadison Avenue, Morris Street and Myrtle Avenue to the west of South Lake Avenue, andthe rest of the proposed 10th ward than it shares with the large hospital complex of Albany Medical Center and Capital District Psychiatric Center 
 
that connects that sectionof Park South to the 9th ward.
In reviewing the enclosures submitted with the Commission's letter, it is clear that theCommission made every effort to address community concerns given their agreed uponguidelines, but that the guidelines were simply too stringent to keep cohesive neighborhoodstogether in every instance. The Brennan Center has many suggestions for the most fair redistricting possible, one of those provided in
 A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting 
in the"Suggestions for Reform" section states
,
"
Allow the legislature a final tweak. One of thedownsides of independent redistricting is that legislators really do tend to know their districts inside and out. Allowing the legislature a final opportunity to tweak commissionlines may both facilitate the passage of redistricting reform in the first place, and permitan escape valve to correct unintended negative consequences of particular redistrictingdecisions, at least on the margins...."
(Levitt 77)Unfortunately, the Operations Committee voted to forward the Commission's map for an up or down vote of the full Council without seriously considering the concerns expressed at theJanuary 7 Common Council hearing or the remarks of former Assembly Member, JackMcEneny who testified before the Council and the Commission about the importance of keepingneighborhoods together especially in city redistricting. It is clear that given a little bit of time andeffort, there are ways to address the majority of the concerns expressed since Council Member Sano managed to take some time and come up with a proposal that addresses three of the four concerns raised by the public on January 7. “Redistricting and Transparency” states,
"Thehearing process should not be illusory. Simply trotting out a dog-and-pony show wherethere is not meaningful opportunity to incorporate feedback is meaningless and insultingto the public who take their participation seriously. All redistricting authorities, uponcompletion of a final plan should leave time to rework the plan based upon publicfeedback, if necessary."
(Brennan 4)
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