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Fillmore's Screaming Eagle

On Tuesday, the citizens commission empanelled to advice Buffalo’s Common Council on redistricting formally recommended a proposal, by a vote of five to one. (Three commissioners were excused from the meeting at which the vote took place; another, Russell Weaver, voted against the plan. Weaver is interviewed in “5 Questions With…,” to the left.) The new scheme, in keeping with Buffalo’s declining population, reduces district sizes to an average of 29,035 residents. In order to achieve those numbers within a five percent variance, four disticts—Delaware, Niagara, North, and University—need to shed residents. The three districts that have lost the most population—Ellicott, Filmmore, and Masten—need to gain residents. The populations of the Lovejoy and South districts fall within the five percent variance of the new target number.

Under the recommended plan, the North District, represented by Joe Golombek, loses a handful of blocks in the Elmwood Village between Bird and Auburn to Mike LoCurto’s Delaware District. That shouldn’t trouble Golombek, as his support his centered in Black Rock and Riverside; a prepoderance of Elmwood Village voters tend to favor LoCurto and his ally, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, whom Golombek has challenged twice to no avail.

Delaware cedes some territory just south of Delaware Park and Forest Lawn to the adjacent Masten District and, surprisingly, to the Ellicott District, which surges north from its traditional base downtown and on the lower East and West Sides.

Why must Ellicott spread so far northward? In part, it does so because it has lost population and needs more people to fall within five percent of 29,035 residents. But, in the plan recommended by the commission, Ellicott actually loses swaths of territory on its southern reach, as well as a triangle of land on the Lower West Side. All this is transferred from Ellicott, represented by Reverend Darius Pridgen, to the Fillmore District, represented by Common Council President Dave Franczyk.

In the recommended plan, Fillmore—at 21,301 residents the most depleted of the city’s councilmanic districts—takes a bite out of the South District, eats up some waterfront property downtown (taking care to keep Pridgen’s waterfront home within the Ellicott District), and then swoops north of City Hall into the West Side. The result, when viewed on a map, resembles an eagle diving toward its prey, wings spread wide and talons extended.

Maybe you don’t see that: We welcome competing descriptions.

Fillmore was already the most obviously gerrymandered of the city’s legislative district, shaped to give Franczyk, who is white and Polish, a fighting chance to continue representing neighborhoods that are increasingly African American. The proposed new Fillmore District seems designed to that purpose as well: It’s roughly 40 percent white and 48 percent black, meaning that a white candidate can hold the seat either by winning a percentage of the black vote or by splitting the black vote with competing African-American candidates. (That is not really possible in “safe” minority-majority districts such as Masten, which is 85 percent black, or University, which is 64 percent black. It is possible but unlikely in Ellicott, which is 58 percent black.) There has been much talk in political circles over the past year or so about Franczyk’s fate, given the changing demographics and the continued hollowing-out of his district. Mayor Byron Brown’s margin of victory in Fillmore in November 2009 suggested Franczyk might be vulnerable this year. This plan, if it’s adopted by the Common Council and withstands any challenges, may prolong his political life.

There will a public hearing on the proposed redistricting plan on Thursday, May 19, 5:30pm, in Common Council Chambers on the 13th floor of City Hall.

geoff kelly

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