Reapportionment 2021

A New York State Independent Redistricting Commission is working to revise the boundary lines for New York State legislative and Congressional districts to conform to data published with the 2020 U.S. Census. During August 2021, I, your author and Enfield Councilperson, commented on the process and what district lines might prove best for this region. My thoughts and words follow:

Go East , Young Man (and Woman)!

Posted August 9, 2021; additional material August 13, 2021

On Monday, August 9th, the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission took Public Hearing testimony on the future shape of Southern Tier and Central New York legislative districts, both state and federal.  More than a dozen people spoke, most notably from Tompkins County, veteran County Legislator Martha Robertson. 

Then on Thursday, August 12th, the Commission took additional comments, this time encouraging testimony concerning reapportionment in the Finger Lakes region and Western New York.  The Commission’s arbitrary regional boundaries lie at the Tompkins-Seneca County line.

Most public comments Monday concerned the future shape of the Southern Tier’s Congressional Districts.  Many commenters feared the impending retirement of Republican Congressman Tom Reed might prompt the Commission to recommend his district be carved up, especially since the Empire State will lose a Congressional seat this cycle.  Comments Thursday touched on a variety issues, including alleged gerrymandering in the Rochester area, but also regarding the future of Tom Reed’s 23rd District and Finger Lakes representation.

On Monday, I filed with the Redistricting Commission my written comments on our redistricting future.  On Thursday, I gave further remarks live at the Commission’s virtual hearing.  Here’s what I wrote, and later said:


Monday’s written comment:

Good Afternoon. Robert Lynch, 175 Gray Road, Town of Enfield, Tompkins County.  I’m a Councilperson on the Enfield Town Board.

In 1865, Horace Greeley famously advised his newspaper readers, “Go West, Young Man.” In 2021, for us in Tompkins County, I’d ask your Commission to encourage us instead, to “Go East.”  Or maybe, if we must, “Go North.”

For the past decade, we in Tompkins County have found ourselves attached as an often mocked and maligned aberrant appendage grafted to an overly-long, hard-to-represent, submarine of a 23rd Congressional District.  The best we can say is that the Old 23rd includes our whole county.

In three prior redistricting cycles, we found ourselves chopped into bits.  In the two prior cycles reapportionment, to varying degrees, split Tompkins County residents between two districts.  Worse yet, in the 1980’s, it cut us three ways, with my Enfield and neighboring Newfield towns orphaned from our county seat and from all our other towns.  That was a horrible mess.  Some insinuated it was political payback.

So, please, as a first priority, keep Tompkins County unified; within a single Congressional District.

But second, please consider attaching our district to the one you create to include Binghamton—or a second-best alternative, Syracuse.

My Town of Enfield, and also Tompkins County’s other towns, ring a central city, Ithaca, our county seat.  Despite our towns’ cherished individual identities, we usually hold hands in a circle and stare inward. We hold an Ithaca focus and deserve a single, common Congressional representative.

But moreover, please also respect our outward attention.  We bond ourselves to our Finger Lakes neighbors.  Sadly, too few reside in these neighboring counties to form a district of our own.   So, next closest, we tie ourselves to Cortland; then to Binghamton; and then, a bit farther, to Syracuse.  We hold little in common with far-away Jamestown.  And our interests and political allegiances remain far apart from most in Cattaraugus, Allegheny, or even Steuben Counties. 

During this past decade, many of us in Tompkins County have sensed map-makers have deliberately thwarted our political will.  Our Democratic-leaning majority, quite frankly, detests its unwelcome joined-at-the-hip linkage to what’s, on balance, a very Trump-friendly Republican majority district.  In apportionment parlance, we feel we’ve been “stacked,” subjected to gerrymandering that ties us to a dissimilar majority so as to dilute our political power.

Uniting us with the more urban populations of Greater Binghamton—or alternately, Syracuse—would remedy our plight.  By doing so, you, our Redistricting Commission, would promote true representative Democracy for our entire Finger Lakes region, but most importantly, for Greater Ithaca—our unique, Ithaca—and for all of us who, like me, hold hands in  Ithaca’s outer ring.

Please keep our county together within one Congressional District.  But next, also place us among friends.

Thank you.


Then, Thursday’s oral testimony, addressing Finger Lakes regional representation:

Good Afternoon. Robert Lynch, 175 Gray Road, Town of Enfield, Tompkins County.  I’m a Councilperson on the Enfield Town Board.

Three days ago, as your Commission convened its Hearing on redistricting for the Southern Tier and Central New York., I submitted written comments urging both that you retain all of my county, Tompkins County, within a single Congressional District, but also that you consider severing our county from its current ties with the western Southern Tier and link it with more urbanized communities encompassing Binghamton, or alternately, Syracuse.

I hold firm to that recommendation.  But today, in your receipt of testimony involving the Finger Lakes Region, I urge you to preserve, if not enhance, keeping the Finger Lakes region intact as I believe it stands as a “community of interest” for Congressional representation.

I’ve lived in the Finger Lakes all my life. I know how seamless the border is between the Town of Ulysses, Tompkins County, and Covert, Seneca County; likewise between Lansing and Genoa; and between my Enfield and the Town of Hector.  While Tompkins may stand as the Finger Lakes “outlier” of sorts—our academic base making us disproportionally liberal and Democrat-leaning—we still identify with the broader regional community.  We hold far more in common with Seneca, Cayuga and Ontario Counties than we do with Cattaraugus and Allegheny.

Apart from our own county’s somewhat unique professional and partisan focus, we in Tompkins share with our Finger Lakes neighbors a vibrant tourist industry.  Wineries and B&B’s abound.  We, like our neighbors, have farms, but not too many factories.  We share lakes that need preserving; a rural culture that respects tradition; broadband connections that could be better.

In redistricting, all things are not possible.  I realize that, as do you.  I believe we in Tompkins County, on balance, would favor a more easterly or northerly Congressional focus.  But while I’d also hope you’d bind us to our Finger Lakes friends, I believe, more importantly, that these neighboring, cohesive, counties should, themselves, find representation as a community of one.

Thank you.