PLATTSBURGH — The message from local people testifying before the State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Re-apportionment was clear: Leave our congressional district the way it is.
"Our congressional district should not be put in proximity with a major city," said Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun, a Republican from Tupper Lake.
"We need a North Country district that is rural in nature."
SERIES OF HEARINGS
Maroun was one of a dozen people who spoke before the Task Force at a public hearing Wednesday in Hawkins Hall at Plattsburgh State.
The hearing was the 14th held around the state to get input on how the new lines should be drawn for congressional and state Senate and Assembly districts for next year's elections.
Districts are re-apportioned every 10 years based on the U.S. Census.
The Task Force is made up of Democrats and Republicans from the Senate and Assembly and two citizens.
Several speakers told the Task Force that the North Country congressional district should not be drastically altered.
New York will lose two congressional districts next year because the state did not keep up in population with the rest of the country, and 53,000 people must be added to each district as a result.
The 23rd Congressional District covers 11 counties — including Clinton, Franklin and part of Essex — stretching from Lake Ontario in the west to Lake Champlain in the east.
It is the fifth-largest congressional district, geographically, east of the Mississippi River.
Those in favor of keeping the 23rd much the way it is pointed to its rural nature, the agricultural, tourist and recreational aspects and the border with Canada as making up the unique fabric of the district.
"We have a sprawling district. We take upstate to a whole new meaning," Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) said.
Ray Scollin of Saranac Lake said the district could gain the people needed by adding the rest of Essex County and part of Fulton County.
"They are much like the rest of the district," he said.
Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush, a Republican from the Watertown area, said the North Country district has been roughly the same for more than 30 years.
"I think it is important to keep it as a single district," Blankenbush said.
"If it is split, our representation would be diluted, and we could be represented by someone who is unlikely to live in our area."
Others spoke in favor of having an independent committee come up with new districts, instead of a political body.
Barbara Bartoletti, chairwoman of the League of Women Voters of New York State, said an independent body is necessary because in the past, redistricting commissions have taken care of incumbents by drawing lines that favor them.
"We need to take the politics out of it," Bartoletti said after the hearing.
"They choose the voters before the voters get a chance to choose them."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to veto any plan that comes from a political body.
"That is why we are providing an alternative map," Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, a government watchdog group, told the Press-Republican before the hearing.
"The people feel that elections have favored incumbents.
"People should be able to chime in on the maps."
Common Cause is devising "communities of interest" that its maps will be based on.
Martin Mannix, the Clinton County Democratic Party chairman, said having the legislative Task Force draw the lines was a waste of time.
"We will not have moved toward reform, which we dramatically need," Mannix said.
"They (the Task Force) all have a vested position in this, and the average citizen is saying, 'No more.'"
Sen. Michael Nozzolio, co-chair of the Task Force, asked Mannix if he would accept a congressional district that included both Clinton County and Albany, if an independent body recommended that.
Mannix would rather not have that scenario but said if the idea is proposed, it should come from a non-political body.
Nozzolio reminded Mannix and others that the Task Force must consider many factors when re-drawing the lines.
Community interests; natural boundaries, such as rivers, highways and county and town lines; and racial, ethnic and language backgrounds must also be considered, by law.
"It looks a lot easier than it is," Nozzolio said.
Malone Town Supervisor Howard Maneely said he was concerned that state prison inmates will not be counted in local areas.
A law that was passed last year calls for inmates to be counted in the town they are from, not where they are doing their time in prison.
"We provide services for them and those facilities, and we need that count," Maneely said. "I hope you take that into consideration and count them where they sleep."
Task Force member Sen. Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn) said the law does not allow inmates to be counted in prison towns, but he noted that federal funds will still go to prison host towns for support.
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