“It is a plan that strips the people of Yonkers of their voice in government, setting up one-party-rule and eliminating the necessary and required check and balance on the City Council to ensure that the people are fairly represented,” GOP Council Minority Leader John Larkin said in a statement Tuesday.
The council’s three Republicans are also taking aim at the consultant that Democrats hired, Phil Chonigman of Hartsdale-based GeoPolitical Strategies, calling it a “travesty and insult” for them to characterize him as an “independent” adviser on redistricting.
Democrats on Saturday released a map showing proposed new boundaries for the six Yonkers council districts that they say more accurately represent the city’s overall demographics.
Yonkers resets those boundaries every decade following the release of updated U.S. Census data.
The new plan comes as Democrats control the mayor’s office and the council for the first time 40 years.
“The previous three plans were all drawn by Republicans — and they were heavily gerrymandered,” said Democratic Council President Chuck Lesnick on Tuesday. “What we have proposed is more fair.”
Democrats say their plan complies with a part of the federal Voting Rights Act that calls for equal representation for minority residents. In addition to preserving Yonkers’ two so-called minority-opportunity districts — the largely-African-American First District and the predominantly-Hispanic Second — the proposal also sets up the Third District to become a new minority-opportunity district in anticipation of a growing Hispanic population.
Lesnick also said the Democratic proposal brings the city’s council districts more in line with county, state and federal legislative districts.
GOP council members have vowed to release their own plan that keeps the First and Second minority-opportunity districts intact without diluting the Republican presence in the Third District, which has traditionally been more heavily contested.
Republicans note that the city’s total population of nearly 200,000 has not increased significantly in the past 10 years, and they point to a mayoral committee’s finding last year that the current legislative boundaries should not be drastically changed.
A vote is expected in February. If the Democratic plan gets the four council votes and a mayoral sign-off needed for approval, it would likely take effect before the 2013 municipal elections.
Larkin, the Republican minority leader, also worries that the Democratic plan for the Fourth District will weaken Republican Councilman Dennis Shepherd’s control. Shepherd is up for election later this year.
The council is set to discuss the plan further at a committee meeting next Tuesday.