ALBANY — Five mayors joined Wednesday to urge that Albany, Amsterdam, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady and Troy remain within a single congressional district.
The five are the urban core of a region that combines to be more than the sum of its parts, they said, and needs a single voice representing it in Congress.
The cities themselves and the region would suffer under a proposed redistricting that would place Amsterdam and Saratoga Springs into a sprawling, mostly rural district that covers more than a quarter of the state’s land area, the mayors said.
“The most significant challenges and opportunities the city of Amsterdam deals with are pretty much identical to those faced by the municipalities represented by these four other mayors,” Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti said.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said the Capital Region is one of the few places in New York state that is gaining population and attracting new businesses, and it’s doing that because its municipalities work together and have a single representative advocating for them in the House of Representatives.
That would be U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, a veteran politician and seven-term congressman.
As it now exists, his 20th Congressional District accomplishes exactly what the mayors seek: It includes just enough of Rensselaer and Saratoga counties to include their two biggest cities, Troy and Saratoga Springs, plus the eastern end of Montgomery County, which includes Tonko’s lifelong home.
Congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect the latest census data.
This time around, an independent bipartisan commission was to draw the map, but couldn’t agree on the district lines. So the job fell to the Democratic-controlled state Legislature, which drew up a set of maps that many said was severely gerrymandered — 22 of 26 districts would have a solid Democratic advantage in voter enrollment.
An appeals court with entirely Democratic appointees threw that map out. A court-appointed special master drew up new maps that were much less favorable to Democrats and, in the process, moved Amsterdam and Saratoga Springs into the 21st Congressional District, a massive area including all or part of 15 counties.
Tonko, who would be a resident of NY-21 under the proposed redistricting, plans to run for re-election in NY-20 if the new map is adopted as drawn. He does not have to live in the district he represents.
None of the mayors who spoke Wednesday mentioned Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, the four-term incumbent who represents NY-21 and is running for re-election there.
Stefanik has gained notice recently as a snarky, right-wing attack dog but the mayors’ objections seemed to be more against NY-21 than against its incumbent congresswoman or her politics.
“It’s a different congressional district made up of different types of communities, so I am very concerned,” said Cinquanti.
He noted Amsterdam would shift from a 1,000-square-mile district with several other cities to a 15,000-square-mile district with dispersed small towns.
“I’d much prefer having my representation come from the guy who’s representing the cities of the Capital District because those are the issues that mean the most to the city of Amsterdam.”
Schenectady would remain in NY-20 with the two other larger cities, Albany and Troy. But it would lose some clout without “unified advocacy,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said.
“Sometimes politics does enter into it,” he said. “Those communities are more Democratic. The role of public debate and then coming back together the next day and actually doing the work is gone in Washington.
“So there is an element of partisanship, an element of divisiveness, that really affects local government and affects the nation as a whole. So I believe we’re really served by being in one district and having that common voice.”
Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim said his city is especially reflective of the interconnected nature of the region because so many of its residents work in the other cities and so many residents from the other cities come to Saratoga for recreation.
“In many respects, we are one community separated by lines drawn on a map,” Troy Mayor Patrick Madden said.
The courts and special master invited public comment after releasing the draft maps Monday and Sheehan is optimistic they will take those comments into account.
The public can comment via [email protected].
The maps are scheduled to be finalized Friday.
“We realize this is a really short time frame but we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think we could have an impact,” Sheehan said.
As drawn, Albany, Rensselaer and Schenectady counties would be in NY-20, along with southern Saratoga County.
NY-21 would consist of Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Schoharie, Warren and Washington counties, the northern half of Saratoga County, part of Otsego County, and all or part of seven other counties going north to the Canadian border.