There is a furious behind-the-scenes fight going on over the redistricting of the Monroe County Legislature.
The dynamic pits party and personal interests against one another. Each party wants more seats, and all the legislators want to keep their jobs.
That’s natural, but that’s not all.
There is also a racial dynamic at play.
Specifically, there is a struggle to decide how many black districts there will be in the 29-seat Legislature. Right now, there are two. Mathematically, there could be five.
Such a district is one in which black people make up 50 or more percent of the population. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 says that, under certain conditions and where possible, minority districts should be created, to assure that non-whites aren’t marginalized or disproportionately underrepresented.
In Monroe County, 30 percent of the people are non-white, yet just 6.9 percent of the County Legislature districts are non-white. That’s an underrepresentation by a factor of more than four.
That happens because of redistricting processes called “cracking” and “packing.”
“Cracking” is when minority neighborhoods are broken up into different districts in order to dilute their voting power, and “packing” is when minority neighborhoods are all put together to reduce minority voting power outside a core non-white district.
Right now, there are three general proposals for redistricting, each producing different numbers of black districts. An outside plan supported by County Executive Adam Bello would leave things where they have been for 30 years – with two black districts. A proposal floated by most Legislature Democrats would have three such districts, while a bi-partisan group of legislators has come up with a plan for five.
That’s the one I support.
Not because I’m downtown marching with my fist in the air, or joining the woke eastsiders in hating my whiteness, but because I believe in the Constitution, the law and my fellow Americans.
And I have grown suspicious of a tendency in Monroe County politics to give black people lip service, but not power. I see that tendency particularly in the Democratic Party, where non-whites are welcomed at the voting booth, but not in elected office.
The plan which would create five black districts came out of a negotiation involving Legislature Democrats Yversha Roman, Michael Yudelson and Rachel Barnhart, as well as Legislature President Sabrina LaMar and Republican Leader Steve Brew. The discussions were fair and logical, and featured LaMar, Barnhart and Brew pushing for five districts.
The Democrat plan for three districts is advocated by legislators who find it offensive to negotiate with Republicans. Monroe County Democratic Committee Chairman Zach King – a surrogate of Congressman Joe Morelle – told the Democrats not to negotiate with Republicans under any circumstances, and that it was best to scuttle the issue at the Legislature level and let it go to court, for a judge to decide.
Barnhart has argued to colleagues that the charter obligates the Legislature to decide and that it should do its duty. Rebuffed, she resigned her assistant minority leader position in protest.
The position of Adam Bello – to accept an outside contractor’s recommendation to stay at two black districts – seems largely driven by hard feelings toward President Sabrina LaMar – a Democrat who allied with Republicans to control the Legislature – and a desire to create suburban-dominated districts most likely to give his party a veto-proof supermajority in the Legislature.
Like I said, I support the plan for five black districts. It obeys the law, it respects and represents the non-white people clustered in Rochester, and it empowers voters who have been underrepresented in the county for more than 50 years. Simply put, it is fair.
Further, the plans supported by the Democrats – for two or three black seats – screw black and brown people. Adam Bello, who only won because of black voters from the city, is supporting a plan that would give those same black people and their Latino neighbors a seat at the back of the bus. Power for black people doesn’t come from electing white people, it comes from electing black people. And when you create districts that make it harder to elect black people – and you do so in probable violation of federal law and state guidelines – you’re not a champion of black people, you’re an exploiter of black people.
Let me be honest. As a conservative, white Republican, I’m probably not going to like or agree with the legislators elected by these overwhelmingly Democrat black districts. We look at the world differently – which is exactly why they belong in the electoral mix. And though I doubt I’ll believe in their politics, I do believe with all my heart in the principle that fair is fair and that the more a government represents the people -- whoever those people might be -- the freer and more principled that government will be.
I believe in our Constitution, and in the core value of representative government. I believe that the people have a right to be heard, and they have a right to elect people who truly represent them – to include their lives, their heritage and, if they choose, their skin color.
And I believe that anything or anyone who stands in the way of that is an enemy of democracy and in violation of their oath to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution.
Adam Bello is wrong – dramatic minority population growth in Monroe County isn’t represented by holding the number of seats to where they’ve been for 30 years. Legislature Democrats are wrong – giving people 60% of what they deserve isn’t giving people what they deserve.
The bipartisan plan is right – it’s what the math, the law and the principle of fairness dictate.
It’s time to stop the progressive paternalism. Stop breaking up black city voters to help white suburban Democrat politicians. Let the city and its non-white residents have what America promises – truly representative government.
This plan, backed by most Republicans, will empower voters who are overwhelmingly Democrats.
Why are the Republicans doing that?
Because it’s the right thing. Because this is America. And because we are all fellow citizens.
And sometimes you have to walk the talk.
That’s what this is about.