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Bello to legislators: Go back to the drawing board on redistricting 

click to enlarge 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
  • 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.

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello had a message Thursday for county legislators looking to redraw legislative districts: Go back to the drawing board.

He announced that his administration would draw its own map in an effort to tame the rhetoric around the process thus far and reboot negotiations among quarreling legislators.

Bello revealed his intentions during a news conference on the matter a couple of hours before supporters of a controversial proposal currently under consideration by the Legislature were to hold a rally outside of the Monroe County Office Building.

“This map is not good for our community in general and it certainly is not good for the community the people promoting this map are purporting to support ,” Bello said. “The only people benefitting from this map are the legislators currently supporting it.”

The plan on the table has been championed by two Democrats, Legislature President Sabrina LaMar and Legislator Rachel Barnhart. The proposal has the backing of Republicans, but has torn Democrats asunder. Legislators by law have to redraw their districts every 10 years following the federal census.

The 29-seat Legislature is split almost evenly between the parties. There are 15 Democrats, but the president caucuses with the 14 Republicans.

The map would create five Legislature districts with a majority of Black voters that would cover the impoverished, heavily Black neighborhoods that ring downtown Rochester. Supporters have argued that it would increase the power of Black voters in historically neglected and marginalized neighborhoods of the city and make it easier for them to elect their preferred candidates.

In a statement, LaMar accused Bello of trying to dilute Black voting strength. 

"Today’s press conference was simply grandstanding, and a waste of valuable time," LaMar's statement read. "The county executive attempting to insert himself into redistricting at the 11th hour with this cynical ploy to confuse voters shows nothing more than his bias against the separation of powers and his desire to unilaterally decide the fate of Monroe County voters, specifically Black voters in the city of
Rochester."

Several of the 13 Democratic legislators who oppose the plan stood with Bello as he laid out his concerns and announced he’d propose a new map.

Much of the argument around the plan has centered on the Voting Rights Act, a set of federal laws passed to prevent the disenfranchisement of Black voters and members of other minority groups.

click to enlarge Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.
Bello’s administration has hired two experienced, nationally-known authorities to aid with the development of its proposal. One is Lisa Handley, whose expertise is in analyzing voting patterns. The other is attorney Jeffrey Wice, who has counseled the state legislature on congressional and statewide redistricting every year since 1980.

Handley said her statistical analysis of the existing city districts showed that minority voters in six districts already appear to be able to elect their candidates of choice. She did not analyze the map under consideration by the Legislature.

Courts chiefly look at districts’ voting patterns and performance when determining whether they run afoul of the law, Wice said.

Concentrating Black voters into several districts could dilute minority voting power in other districts, putting it at legal risk in court, Wice said. Sometimes, those voters could be moved into other districts to improve Black and minority voting power there.

Bello seized on that message. Legislator William Burgess, a Democrat representing the 29th District, backed him up.

“The right question to ask is does a minority group have the opportunity to elect their candidate of choice,” Burgess said. “We heard today the answer is yes. In fact, the expert analysis shows we have five districts that have historically elected a candidate of choice for Black voters.”

Bello has already vetoed one redistricting plan that passed the Legislature last year and he could veto the five-district plan if it passes. Democratic Caucus leaders have encouraged him to do that.

The Legislature could override the veto with a two-thirds vote. But if all 13 Democrats remain opposed to the plan, Lamar, Barnhart, and the 14 Republicans in the Legislature would not be able to meet the necessary threshold.

Legislators meet next on Oct. 11 and could vote on the five-district proposal, which has already been through a public hearing.

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

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