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Column: Making Sense of the Redistricting Chaos

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By W. Brooke Harris, Vice Chairman of the Allegany County Legislature, R-Alfred

Late last night State Supreme Court Justice Patrick F. McAllister approved the proposed district maps for both the U.S. House of Representatives and State Senate. These new lines will be used to determine our representation starting on January 1, 2023. Now that the matter is settled, I’d like to consider how the new lines affect Allegany County residents:

A Split County

In the State Senate, and for the remainder of the year, we will be represented by Senator George Borrello in the 57th District. Starting next year, Allegany County will be split in half, with the eastern half falling in the 58th District, a seat currently held by Senator Tom O’Mara. The western half of the County will remain in Borrello’s 57th District.

On balance, the division of our County is not a positive. Due to our small (and ever-shrinking) population, we hold less political clout than our larger neighbors. Allegany County’s “ace in the hole” has always been that we are unified in being a very “red” county. Historically, Republican candidates have been able to rely on us for strong support in elections. That influence is diminished in a split county. In addition, whatever slim chance Allegany County had to elect one of its own to the State Senate has all but disappeared. We simply will no longer have to votes to effectively challenge candidates from our neighboring counties (which already had us outnumbered).

If there’s a positive to find, it’s that we will now have two State Senators representing our interests in Albany. The 57th and 58th districts are very similar in demographic, and by all accounts Senators O’Mara and Borrello are very similar in their political views. It will be nice to be able to call on both of them to fight for issues affecting our County.

U.S. House of Representatives (NY-23)

Our Congressional District lines have changed significantly as well. In general, the District loses its eastern and north-eastern portions (Ithaca and the Finger Lakes), and picks up most of Erie County. The Southern Tier counties remain unchanged. Unfortunately, these lines are a net loss for Allegany County as well. While the District will remain firmly in the Republican column, the population (and political influence) shifts to Erie County, which will dwarf the remainder of the district by comparison. I fear that the rural Southern Tier counties are about to lose much of their political influence in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The approval of the new lines immediately triggered two political moves: current House Representative Claudia Tenney has dropped out of the race for our congressional seat and announced that she will now run for the newly drawn 24th District. Current House Representative Chris Jacobs in the 27th District has now announced he’ll run in our 23rd District. Jacobs will be very difficult to beat, and we should be worried that we won’t get the attention we deserve from an Erie County representative. I will continue to support potential candidates from the Southern Tier including Sen. Borrello, former Sen. Cathy Young, and Steuben County GOP Chairman Joe Sempolinski.

Now what do we do?

At the end of the day, Allegany County Republicans should be happy that our state and federal districts will continue to be “red”, but fearful that our influence will be diminished. Our task now is to continue to make our small voice heard by actively engaging with our elected officials and fighting hard for those issues that matter to us.

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