On Tuesday, Buffalo’s Common Council voted unanimously to adopt a redistricting plan that community groups and activists have spent the past two months trying to stop.
The new district maps comprise an amended version of a redistricting plan unveiled in May by a citizens commission whose members were appointed by the Council and Mayor Byron Brown. The plan — which largely leaves intact the gerrymandering of a decade ago — will now be sent to Brown.
The mayor must hold a public hearing on the matter. He then can approve or veto the plan, or allow it to pass into law without his signature. Whatever Brown chooses to do, a redistricting plan must be presented to the Erie County Board of Elections before the Council’s first meeting this September.
Between now and then, the matter is almost certainly headed to the courts.
“We told the Common Council repeatedly that if they did not change course — and drastically — there would be a lawsuit,” Harper Bishop, of Our City Action Buffalo, told Investigative Post after the vote.
“We weren’t bluffing. There will absolutely, without question, be a lawsuit.”
Farther in the future, Bishop said, lay Democratic primary challenges to incumbents who voted for the plan. All nine district Council seats are up for election in 2023.
We must vow right here and right now to not forget what happened today. It’s time to elect people for the @BFLO_CC who represent us and our values. Clearly, none of the nine men on the Council do that. #VoteThemOut #2023 #MovementPolitics
— harper s.e. bishop (@harpersebishop) July 19, 2022
Our City Action Buffalo is a coalition of individuals and activist organizations at the center of the two-month campaign to stop the Council’s plan. The coalition proposed an alternative map that, according to its supporters, would do a better job keeping neighborhoods intact and increasing voting power for Black and Latino communities, among other metrics. The Our City Action alternative would also undo the decade-old gerrymandering of the Fillmore and Ellicott districts.
Last week, the Council claimed it could not consider the Our City Action alternative, citing an opinion from the city’s law department that the Council could only entertain plans submitted by the citizens commission.
The commission held its first meeting on April 20 and unveiled its proposal at a public hearing on May 19. The Our City Action alternative was created in the days that followed that hearing, as a response to the commission’s proposal.
That legal opinion set the stage for yesterday’s vote, which was announced by press release at 3:19 p.m Monday afternoon.
Despite the short notice, 60 or so people opposed to the Council’s plan trooped into Council chambers to register their dissatisfaction.
Common Council President Darius Pridgen gaveled the meeting into session shortly after noon; shortly thereafter the vote was called. The crowd began to shout “No!” and “Don’t vote,” drowning out the proceedings: All nine Council members voted to adopt the plan, which The Buffalo News editorial board called “an incumbency protection plan,” created through a process that lacked “genuine transparency.”
There was no roll call; the Council voted as a whole. Then the meeting was adjourned. It lasted just under two minutes.
Most legislators left by a door on the floor of Council chambers, thus avoiding the protesters in the seats. Those protesters stayed for another 15 minutes. They displayed a banner citing The News editorial board’s condemnation of the Council’s actions. They took turns reading prepared statements condemning the Council’s plan and supporting the Our City Action alternative.
Among the speakers was India Walton, whose mayoral candidacy Our City Action supported last year. Walton currently resides in the Niagara District but has indicated she intends to run next year in the Masten District, currently represented by Ulysees Wingo. No other candidates have yet declared their intention to run.
The next step, in any case, is the mayor’s office.
On social media Tuesday afternoon, Our City Action encouraged Brown to veto the plan. Bishop doesn’t expect the mayor will do that, anymore than he expected the Council to heed its critics.
“The wrongs of history won’t be righted, unfortunately, by our elected officials,” Bishop said. “Instead of taking that opportunity to engage people in a robust and democratic process, they treated their constituents with contempt and chose to make decisions behind closed doors.”