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Controversial redistricting plan goes to Bello


The Monroe County Legislature passed a pair of controversial maps Friday that will create five majority Black legislative districts. - GRAPHIC BY JACOB WALSH
  • The Monroe County Legislature passed a pair of controversial maps Friday that will create five majority Black legislative districts.
The fate of a controversial plan to redraw Monroe County Legislature districts is now in the hands of County Executive Adam Bello.

Legislators passed the contentious redistricting proposal by a vote of 17to 12, with Legislature President Sabrina LaMar, Democratic Legislator Rachel Barnhart, and the 14-member Republican Caucus supporting it.

The proposal will be sent to Bello for his signature or, more likely, his veto.

Monroe County Legislature President Sabrina LaMar. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Monroe County Legislature President Sabrina LaMar.
“Black lives shouldn’t just matter on your lawn signs or in your thoughts and prayers,” LaMar said as she explained why she was about to cast a “yes” vote for the proposal.

The proposal would create five Legislature districts with a majority of Black voters that would span the impoverished, heavily Black neighborhoods that ring downtown Rochester. Supporters have argued that it would increase the power of Black voters in historically neglected and marginalized neighborhoods and make it easier for them to elect their preferred candidates.

They’ve also made a public case that the map complies with the Voting Rights Act, a set of federal laws passed to prevent the disenfranchisement of Black voters and members of other minority groups.

While LaMar, a Democrat who caucuses with the GOP, and Barnhart have championed the plan, the other 13 Democratic legislators have pushed back, arguing that concentrating Black voters in five districts could dilute the voting power of other minority groups, Latinos in particular.

They’ve also claimed that the plan would foreclose the possibility of creating a larger number of districts where minorities are in the majority and Black voters are able to elect their candidates of choice.

Members of the Democratic Caucus have urged Bello to veto the map. Legislator Carolyn Delvecchio Hoffman broke from her caucus and voted yes, but she explained that she was acting on what people in her district have asked her to do and that she still believes the plan will disenfranchise Black voters.

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.
Bello has not said publicly that he will issue a veto but has signaled that he may be leaning that way. Earlier in the day Friday, he asked legislators to cancel their scheduled vote and released his own redistricting proposal that he drafted with the help of two well-known consultants.

He has also indicated in recent weeks that he is no fan of the proposal now headed for his desk.

“This map is not good for our community in general and it certainly is not good for the community the people promoting this map are purporting to support,” Bello said during an Oct. 6 news conference. “The only people benefitting from this map are the legislators currently supporting it.”

If Bello vetoes the plan, he risks upsetting influential people in Democratic Party circles who have publicly supported it — including former Mayor Lovely Warren, Brighton Town Boardmember Robin Wilt, and prominent members of the clergy — and further fanning a political fight.

The Rev. Myra Brown of Spiritus Christi Church has been one of the high-profile supporters of the plan. She believes the plan will make sure that Black neighborhoods have political clout and the representation to which they are entitled.

She said Black voters, clergy, and leaders whom Bello courted when he sought the county executive seat are outraged he’d consider “betraying the Black community in this way.”

“He can veto it, but we will absolutely remember it at the polls," Brown said of the map during an interview Thursday.

Bello already vetoed one redistricting plan, which passed the Legislature last year. If he blocks the plan passed Friday, the Legislature could override his veto with a two-thirds vote. But if all 13 Democrats remain opposed to the plan, Lamar, Barnhart, and the 14 Republicans in the Legislature would not be able to meet the necessary threshold.

A veto would also increase the likelihood that the fight over redistricting would become a legal one, especially since potential Legislature candidates for the 2023 election will soon need to know what districts they’d be running in. Someone could petition a court to draw the districts.

Barnhart, who has been at odds with Bello on this issue, said there’s no need for redistricting to go to court. Bello and the remaining Democrats, she said, just need come back to the table and negotiate a plan.

Redistricting is a process that legislative bodies are by law required to undergo every 10 years in response to the results of the decennial census.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's deputy editor. He can be reached at [email protected].