County challenged on new districts

ALBANY COUNTY — Three Albany residents are bringing a lawsuit against the county following its adoption of a new voting district map.

Anne Pope, who brought a successful suit as a leader of Albany’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People against the county with similar complaints after the last redistricting plan was adopted 10 years ago, warned the county legislature before it adopted the new map in May.  County Executive Michael Breslin signed the legislature’s map in June.

She and Janis Gonzalez along with Wanda Willingham, a member of the county legislature, argue in the suit that the new map is unfair to minority voters.  Represented by Paul DerOhannesian, they submitted a complaint to the federal district court of northern New York yesterday.  Since it had not yet been officially acknowledged and filed by the court, DerOhannesian said he could not comment on the case.

After the federal census is completed every 10 years, the county adjusts its voting districts to reflect population shifts.  The last two maps adopted by the legislature were successfully challenged in court.

“There’s an opportunity for the redistricting commission to come to the table and meet with Anne Pope and Mr. Mair,” said Hilltown legislator Alexander Gordon, referring to the alternative map submitted by Aaron Mair, a civil rights activist, which would create a fifth district in the city of Albany that would have a majority of voters from minority communities.  Mair’s map also maintains much of Gordon’s rural 39th District, which used to include the towns of Knox, Berne, and Rennsselaerville.  The county’s new map put most of Knox, the town where Gordon, a farmer, lives, in the 31 District, which covers part of the suburban town of Guilderland.

The complaint claims that the minority population in Albany has grown enough to warrant another district that is occupied mostly by minorities and that, by not including a fifth minority-majority district, as they are called, “Minority voters in Albany County are therefore denied an equal opportunity to that of white voters to elect candidates of their choice to the legislature and have less opportunity than whites to participate in the political process.”

Opening a discussion rather than going through litigation would save the county thousands of dollars, Gordon said.  “If the redistricting commission did open the process to Mair and communities of interest, we could change 30 years of history — from being sued to do the right thing to doing the right thing,” he said.

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