February 16, 2012

City Redistricting Commission Debates Future of Ithaca’s Wards

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The City of Ithaca’s redistricting commission voted on Wednesday to select a plan to redraw district lines based on four wards. The commission is also tasked with districting a plan with five wards but has not yet done so.

After lengthy discussion of the potential impacts of the plan on neighborhoods such as Collegetown and Fall Creek, committee members at the meeting were still divided on how to reconcile the concerns of permanent residents with those of students.

Additionally, the plan selected by the commission differs from the one preferred by Tompkins County, which would align city wards with the county’s legislative districts. According to Hank Dullea, who is a member of the county’s redistricting commission as well as the city’s, the county commission has come to a consensus on including four legislative districts within city lines.

Nancy Schuler, a member of the redistricting commission, said she favored one of the alternative proposals, which would have merged Collegetown and South Hill, over the chosen plan. She said this would have increased the representation of permanent residents in the area.

“It’s not the Collegetown ward; it’s the Fourth Ward,” Schuler said. “There are permanent residents, too, in lower East Hill.”

Schuler maintained that she is not “anti-student” and said that she wants to see more students involved in politics at the “appropriate level.”  Dullea echoed this sentiment, citing low voter turnouts on North Campus.

“The residence halls, even though they’re in the city, look to the University for all their needs,” Dullea said. “You’ll be lucky if you get 30 people out of 3,000 to vote.”

However, other commission members –– including Tom Frank, chair of the redistricting commission –– noted that some permanent residents think student-heavy wards lead to uncompetitive elections. He called for the standing Fourth Ward to include more long-term residents.

“By adding permanent residents to the current Fourth Ward, it is possible that elections will become more competitive,” Frank said.

Commission member Ed Strong, however, disagreed with Frank.

“The most contested election we’ve had was in the Fourth Ward itself,” he said.

Strong said the residents of Collegetown do not necessarily share the same political interests as those of South Hill.

“One of our charges is to keep neighborhoods whole within their respective wards,” he said. “It’s a problem when any ward is broken up and the commission’s preferred plan does the best job of any to preserve neighborhoods.”

While Dullea acknowledged that the four-ward plan preferred by the city does not match up with the county’s plan, he said that the county commission may still opt to present the city’s preferred plan to the county legislature along with the county’s preferred one, as a second option.

Original Author: Matthew Rosenspire

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