The proposed districts (right) were approved by Syracuse’s Common Council. They will now be used in future elections.

Lawmakers on Monday passed new citizen-drawn legislative districts for Syracuse by a 5-4 vote.

Syracuse is believed to be the first city on the East Coast to have its legislative districts redrawn by citizens. The process has been lauded as a way to prevent gerrymandering.

Monday’s vote ended a three-year process to redraw the legislative districts. Syracusans began the process during the 2019 election. City residents voted at the time to have an independent commission of citizens redraw the maps rather than lawmakers.

The map approved Monday will be the first new map in the city in the last 20 years. Districts are supposed to be redrawn every 10 years.

Councilors who voted to approve the maps Monday hope the process becomes a guide for other cities.

All four no votes came from councilors who represent specific districts — not councilors-at-large. The only district councilor to vote yes for the redrawn maps was recently appointed councilor Jimmy Monto.

“We are setting a tone for other cities,” Monto said. “To actually, say, form a citizen-based committee to redraw maps instead of a room full of politicians sitting down and drawing where they want their votes to be. This is the right way to do it. We are an example.”

The four councilors who voted against the new map gave various reasons for their votes. Jennifer Schultz, Latoya Allen and Chol Majok all said they believed citizen concerns about the map needed to be more properly addressed.

Pat Hogan said he voted no because he believes the city should be split into nine districts rather than having five districts and four at-large councilors, he said.

Allen also said she believes the process should be entirely voted on by citizens, even the final maps.

“I just don’t like the idea of allowing this body to vote on their jobs,” Allen said.

All four lauded the process despite their no votes. Had the proposed map received one more no vote, it would have been sent back to the redistricting commission to be redrawn. The council would have then voted.

Much of the concern vocalized by citizens came from South Side residents who represent the nonprofit Save the 16th. The group rallied during county redistricting to keep the 16th legislative district in the Onondaga County Legislature in tact.

Jackie LaSonde, a member of the group, said the new map removes the Carriage House and Toomey Abbott Towers from a majority-minority district in favor of Vincent Apartments. LaSonde said the apartment complexes have reliable turnout from Black voters whereas Vincent Apartments has more turnover and less reliable turnout.

The voting bloc’s power will be diluted as a result, she said.

LaSonde and others from Save the 16th plan to challenge the maps. They said they have talked to legal representation about filing a lawsuit.

Redistricting has lead to a number of lawsuits locally this year. Democrats sued over newly drawn districts for the Onondaga County Legislature in the summer. They accused county Republicans of gerrymandering.

Republicans in the New York State Legislature sued Democrats in that legislative body for the same reason.

Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny attended Monday’s vote. He complimented the work of the commission. Czarny said he believes Syracuse set an example for other cities to replicate.

“It’s been a long process to get here,” Czarny said. “It was not done overnight like some other redistricting processes have been done. It’s important to see a lot of thought went into this.”

Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.