ALBANY –- The Republican head of the state’s redistricting task force is defending the Senate GOP’s newly proposed congressional lines, which does away with two existing Democratic seats downstate and takes away the Erie and Niagara county areas now represented by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter.
"We believe our plan, which keeps intact 44 of the 62 counties of the state, establishes what we believe are fair districts, and that the bulk of that plan will ultimately be accepted by the Assembly in agreement or the [federal court's] master as the master is drawing plans," said Sen. Michael Nozzolio, a Finger Lakes-area Republican.
The co-chairman of the legislative panel overseeing the redistricting process defended the Senate’s proposed changes to Western New York’s congressional delegation.
"Our intention was to keep as many counties whole as possible. Those counties larger than congressional districts, like Erie and Monroe, had to be cut," he said. "We believe our plan is very fair, it’s been designed to keep the integrity of upstate counties."
Asked, for instance, if the new lines would make it possible for a fairer fight by a Republican against Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, Nozzolio would only say the GOP plan for Hochul's district "maintains a number of communities of interest," such as keeping intact Niagara County and a number of smaller counties to the east of Erie.
"We think the seat is geographically compact, and that it’s done to reflect the interests of what’s called the continuity of the core of existing districts. That’s an item of importance to the courts. One of the items they look at is to maintain the core constituencies of districts as they exist now. This district is reflective of pretty much the district as it exists now as much as possible, within the dynamics of having significant population losses in the western part of the state," the senator said in an interview this morning outside the Senate chamber.
The state is losing two congressional seats thanks to New York's anemic population growth in the 2010 Census.
Asked about diminishing the representation in Congress of the Buffalo area, Nozzolio said the decision to remove Slaughter from Buffalo and Niagara County was driven by population numbers. “Even within the broad dynamic of losing population in Erie and all of Western New York, the population had pretty much stabilized or grew a little in Monroe County,’’ he said.
The senator said the GOP plan tries to “take advantage’’ of the Monroe County growth by moving Slaughter back while “still maintaining’’ the Erie County-based districts held by Rep. Brian Higgins and Hochul.
Precise partisan breakdowns for the districts were not immediately available and not part of the package of material that the Legislature had to disclose to the federal judge. In the case of the Senate plan, most districts were held to about their current partisan characteristics of their constituents. Two of the biggest changes, sources said, were Slaughter’s seat, which becomes considerably more Republican with the loss of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, and Hochul’s new district.
The future of Hochul’s seat was the subject of a major battle between the Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats, negotiators said. The GOP plan, Republicans said, would take her district from 39 percent Republican and 30 percent Democratic to 38 percent Republican and 35 percent Democratic.
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