Buffalo, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- New York State Senator Timothy M. Kennedy called Senate Republicans' redistricting proposal a clear example of political gerrymandering during his testimony before the panel tasked with redrawing the state legislative map at their public hearing Thursday.
According to a news release, Kennedy urged the panel to take their remap proposal back to the drawing boards.
"Rather than making compactness, contiguity and communities of interest the guiding principles of the redistricting process," Senator Kennedy said. "It appears you have manipulated the map and carefully plotted districts with the goals of maintaining power and safeguarding vulnerable incumbents."
Senator Kennedy was one of many Western New Yorkers who voiced concerns at the hearing held by LATFOR, the majority-controlled task force for redistricting. Local residents spoke on a wide variety of issues that concerned them about the new map proposal.
Senator Kennedy's testimony focused on the need to draft a fair, non-partisan plan that will benefit the public, rather than political incumbents. He reiterated his call for the creation of an independent redistricting commission to take reapportionment duties away from incumbent legislators, who have manipulated the current system.
"For far too long, the redistricting process has been abused as the Albany incumbent protection program," Kennedy said. "Majority legislators pick and choose their voters, and if you don't fit their mold as a potential supporter, you're pawned off to a neighboring district. It's a backward system that breeds voter apathy and dysfunctional government."
During the 2010 election season, the vast majority of State Senators signed a pledge to support independent redistricting for the 2012 season.
"I was new to the Senate, but with 85 percent of legislators pledging support, I thought we'd quickly get to work and get the job done on independent redistricting," Kennedy said. "Instead, Senate Republicans went back on their word and gave New York State a Senate map that reeks of political gerrymandering."
Senator Kennedy cited several flaws with the Senate Republicans' map proposal, including the population deviations among districts, the "cracking" or splitting up of minority communities into separate districts and separating communities of similar interest.
"New York State enjoys and celebrates a diverse culture and rich history of fighting for the rights of minorities, but the Senate Republicans' new map proposal seems to constrict minority rights, rather than seeking to expand rights and empower communities," Kennedy said. "The proposed map demonstrates the practice of 'cracking' minority communities among several Senate districts to drown any attempt to gain political voice."
He also called out Senate Republicans for toying with the State Constitution to expand the size of the Senate in an effort to maintain power. Kennedy cited a rule dating back to 1894 in Article III, § 4 of the State Constitution which contains the formula for determining the number of Senate districts. Senate Republicans inconsistently applied the rule to devise a map with 63 seats.