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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 12, 2011
Districts reshaped: Public confused and aroused as county draws new lines
By Zach Simeone
ALBANY It’s that time again.
Once every 10 years, after the federal census numbers are released, the Albany County Legislature re-examines its members’ district lines, many of which will shift if its re-districting commission’s current proposal is approved after the May 17 public hearing.
As the maps continued to change, the re-districting process bred confusion with regard to the upcoming fall elections, both among voters as to which candidates they would be able to vote for, and among candidates as to which district they would be running in. On Monday, some county residents told the legislators they felt misled by limited advertising and poor scheduling of the re-districting meetings, and inadequate presentation of information at the meetings.
Aaron Mair, a Guilderland resident who has made a career out of being a “civil-and-voter rights data analyst” for more than 20 years, said that the people had been “hoodwinked” throughout the re-districting process.
“It’s about increasing power for the Democratic Party,” Mair said Tuesday, “reducing influence of other entities like the Republican Party, and reducing influence of minority communities, which are now in a larger part of the city.”
Albany County Legislator Shawn Morse, who chairs the re-districting committee and serves District 18 in the northern tip of the county, took offense to Mair’s claims of deception.
“As the chairman of this committee, I did everything I thought I could do to make this a bi-partisan committee,” Morse told Mair at Monday’s forum, adding, “I will not stand for anybody saying I hoodwinked, or misled, or lied to, or manipulated. I have values. I have morals.”
On Tuesday, Morse told The Enterprise in frustration, “The big fuss was these maps changed. Of course they changed; maps change all the time because, every day new data gets put into the computer, maps change. So, this is a living, breathing document.”
Overall, the population in Albany County increased by 3 percent to 304,204. The county legislature has 39 representatives. Under the new plan, each legislator will represent roughly 7,500 people.
Morse’s district has moved northwest, and has increased in population from 7,612 residents, to 8,105.
Said Mair on Tuesday, “This is a classic case of when they say, ‘Oh, well, we had these meetings and people didn’t show up.’ Well, what about where you had them, when you had them, and the way they were presented? It’s an example of following the letter of the law, but not the meaning of the law.”
Mair refers to the past two public re-districting meetings, which were held in the afternoon, when most people are working, and when parking spaces are sparse in downtown Albany, where most of the meetings took place. It was at last Friday’s meeting that the committee voted to bring the current proposal to the legislature.
“Our job is not to worry about candidates who are running, or people who are elected,” Morse said Tuesday. “A candidate can run where they live. We don’t look at candidates’ running as part of the equation of drawing the lines. It would be one thing to intentionally Gerry-rig someone out of voting, but, in terms of drawing the lines, that’s not even considered.”
Some things change
There are some key changes for residents of the Hilltowns, Guilderland, and New Scotland (see related maps).
For the last 10 years, District 39, represented by Knox resident Alexander “Sandy” Gordon, included all of Knox, Berne, and Rensselaerville.
But, if the proposed changes are approved by the legislature, Gordon’s district would lose most of Knox and some of Berne, but would keep all of Rensselaerville, and gain Westerlo.
Currently, Westerlo lies in District 38, represented by Charles Houghtaling Jr. of Feura Bush. His district now also includes most of New Scotland, excluding the village of Voorheesville.
According to the latest re-districting plan, Houghtaling’s district would lose Westerlo to Gordon’s, but gain more of New Scotland, including half of Voorheesville.
Additionally, most of Knox and the northeast corner of Berne, currently represented by Gordon, would become part of District 31, represented by Altamont’s William Aylward. But Aylward’s district would be losing portions of Guilderland to District 29, represented by Legislator Lee Carman.
The rest of Guilderland would still be made up by District 28, represented by Christine Benedict; District 30, by Bryan Clenahan; and District 32, by Mary Lou Connolly. A small portion of Guilderland is currently represented by William Clay, of Albany, but that would no longer be the case if the current proposal passes.
The northeast quarter of New Scotland, including Voorheesville, is currently part of District 33, represented by Herbert Reilly Jr. of Voorheesville. This district also now includes a small portion of Bethlehem.
The re-districting proposal, while removing half of Voorheesville and some of New Scotland from Reilly’s district, would expand his district further west into Bethlehem.
Gordon told The Enterprise this week that, while looking at the efforts of the re-districting committee to keep neighborhoods together in the city of Albany, he disagrees with the Hilltowns’ being separated into multiple districts.
“The interest of the people on the Hill isn’t going to prevail,” Gordon said. “I guess the slogan would be, ‘I ain’t no flatlander.’ That’s their identity, and my identity…There was a sensitivity to not cutting neighborhood associations up. That’s the same as cutting up another area that has identified itself as being separated from the others, and that’s the Hilltowns. It’s not a constitutionally protected parameter, but it certainly is an identity.”
Aylward of Altamont said Wednesday that he looks forward to the expansion of his district into the Hilltowns.
“I think it looks like it will work, but I will be picking up some voters on the Hill,” said Aylward. “I would welcome them, of course, and I look forward to their support. Certainly, I’ll be reaching out to them. But, the process is ongoing.”
Asked if he advocated for the specific changes of his district lines, Aylward said that he had not, and that they were the recommendation of the re-districting committee.
Gordon expressed concerns, as Mair and other citizens have, that the May 17 public hearing may be too soon for people to grasp all of the necessary information.
“I’m not a fan of the hurry-up agenda that we’re seeing all the way around here,” said Gordon. “I think it’s better to do good diligence and a good job, even if it causes the legislature to have county legislative elections two years back-to-back. That’s what would happen if there’s no suitable resolution to the redistricting. This year’s race could be run on the districts as they exist now, and that would require that, when the new districts are approved, and there are no outstanding lawsuits coming, then it would cause a second race…But I think it’s cheaper than a half-a-million-dollars to fight a lawsuit that you’re going to lose.”