ROCHESTER — An effort to increase the power of minority voices in at least two neighborhoods in the city of Rochester could move sitting members of the Rochester City Council to new neighborhoods.
While the first three drafts of potential new ward boundaries did not move council members to new wards, a fourth draft map produced with additional public comment would.
“That was not taken into consideration at all when we redrew the maps,” Rochester management analyst Heather Heyer said of where board members live, citing guidelines prohibiting such consideration.
The city is required to redraw ward boundaries after each U.S. census to improve the overall population balance in each section of the city represented by an elected council member, but these efforts also draw attention to who lives in the wards. existing limits.
Last week, a dozen Rochester residents representing the League of Women Voters, the Isaiah Muslim Coalition and other advocacy groups joined forces to help city staff redraw potential boundaries in an effort to to increase the percentage of Black, Indigenous, and residents of color, commonly known as BIPOC, in Ward 4, while not losing ground in Ward 6.
“These communities have common interests and a common culture and a majority of people of color fundamentally,” said Salah Mohamed, a community organizer for the Isaiah Muslim Coalition.
Bringing “communities of interest” together in one neighborhood is one of the goals of Rochester’s redistricting policy passed last year.
Mohamed said residents along Marion Road in the current Ward 4 and part of the city’s Meadow Park neighborhood in Ward 1 share their experiences but are divided by existing ward boundaries.
While a higher percentage of BIPOC residents in a single ward could open up opportunities for potential non-white council candidates, Mohamed said the issue is really representation.
“It can be anyone running in that neighborhood, but they have to be sure they’re working for the benefit of that community,” he said.
Members of the Rochester League of Women Voters, who also participated in the commentary sessions, echoed that sentiment.
“If someone wants to be elected, they will have to pay attention to the needs of this population,” said League member Mary Jones.
The proposed changes, however, would move City Council member Patrick Keane from Ward 1 to Ward 4, and City Council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick from Ward 4 to Ward 5, where she would be paired with the current Ward Council member. 5, Shaun Palmer.
Increase in opportunities
The fourth map advances efforts to increase the percentage of non-white residents in current neighborhoods.
Today, only Ward 4 in Southeast Rochester has more than 30% non-white residents, classifying it as a minority opportunity neighborhood.
The first three drafts of a new neighborhood map sought to address concerns.
“We know that Rochester is about 28% BIPOC community members, so these maps are focusing a bit higher for Ward 4 and Ward 3 or Ward 6, depending on which draft you’re looking at,” Heyer said. , who worked to draft the map changes.
She said it’s nearly impossible to get to a point where non-white residents outnumber white residents in the same neighborhood under current guidelines, based on the population distribution in the city.
“To try to get a majority minority district, we would need about 10,000 BIPOC residents close enough geographically to create that majority minority, and we’re not quite there in Rochester,” she said. .
In addition to drawing part of the Meadow Park neighborhood into Ward 4, the latest draft map mirrors the city’s third draft by increasing the number of BIPOC residents in Ward 6 to 32.8% and making it a potential second neighborhood of opportunities for minorities.
According to the proposal, Ward 4 would be nearly 38.5% BIPOC, an increase from the current 36.3% and slightly up from the 38.2% proposed in the city’s second draft.
Ray Schmitz, a member of the League of Women Voters, said city staff will likely have to consider the best approach among the current proposals.
“Maybe having a high percentage in two districts is better than an even higher percentage in one district,” he said.
While keeping communities with similar interests in one neighborhood is one goal of the city’s redistricting policy, Heyer said another is to change boundaries as little as possible, which creates a challenge all balancing global populations.
“It keeps us in a space where we look at previous lines that were drawn, and those weren’t always drawn with fairness in mind,” she said, referring to outdated practices. that limited where non-white residents could live in the city.
Review of all options
The city’s redistricting team, which includes staff from the city attorney’s office, Rochester Public Library, community development and city government, will review draft maps and public comment, but it does not mean that the final card will already be presented.
Heyer said last week that the fourth draft may be closer to the final result than previous versions, but work will continue throughout the week,
She said the aim was to post a final proposal online by Monday March 14, with city council due to consider it on March 21. If approved, a special meeting will confirm the map on March 24 to meet the state-mandated March 29. deadline.
“There is a provision in state law that states that if a final map is not submitted to the state by the March 29 deadline, city council members and mayors are not paid,” Heyer said.