News Coverage on Redistricting Local Standards
Orange County redistricting maps slammed at public hearingChris Mckenna
GOSHEN — More than a dozen speakers at a public hearing Monday night criticized the Republicans' plan for redrawing Orange County's 21 legislative districts, urging lawmakers to reject or change proposed maps they saw for the first time last month and are rushing to adopt to meet a deadline.
Objections focused largely on the lack of input from Democrats, citizens and redistricting experts, and on the headlong dash to adopt the district lines with too little time to study them and too little information about how they were drawn.
"By waiting so long, the public has had virtually no time to review these proposed lines," said county Democratic Chairman Jonathan Jacobson, comparing the county's redistricting to the running battles over its nursing home and Government Center.
"No wonder there is so little trust in this county government," he said.
Speakers also found fault with the maps, drawn by Legislature Chairman Michael Pillmeier and fellow Republican Legislator Katie Bonelli.
Two representatives of a SUNY New Paltz research center questioned the way the districts' populations had been calculated and warned that the plan would be unlikely to survive a legal challenge.
Gerald Benjamin, director of SUNY's Center for Research, Regional Engagement and Outreach, and Joshua Simons, a senior research associate, told lawmakers that the maps split at least nine census blocks — something they said was forbidden except in rare instances — and missed chances to create districts in which African-Americans and Hispanics formed a voting majority.
Using demographic data and their own mapping software, Benjamin and Simons submitted alternative maps creating so-called majority-minority districts in the cities of Newburgh and Middletown.
"I think that this is a flawed map," Simons said of the Legislature's plan. "I think that it is inviting litigation. I think this could be done better."
In a written statement, he and Benjamin called Orange County's redistricting process one of the "most opaque we have seen in New York State during the current redistricting cycle."
Manny Mangual, chairman of Woodbury's Democratic Committee, fumed that the plan would split his town into four legislative districts.
"Eleven thousand people will be divided up between four legislators," he said. "This whole thing is bogus."
Lawmakers expect to make technical corrections to the plan on Tuesday and vote on it March 21.
They're racing to finish so candidates can begin petitioning on June 4 to run for all 21 seats this fall.
Sonia Ayala, co-chairwoman of the Blooming Grove Democratic Committee, exhorted lawmakers on Monday: "Don't let the June 4 date get in the way of doing the right thing for the people of the county."