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Puerto Ricans a voice still missing in the Erie County Legislature?

May 31, 2011

What is redistricting?  A Buffalo News editorial called it a “redistricting mess” last Friday.  A few redistricting maps  are floating around to determine the new 11-member legislative districts.  The question  for the Puerto Rican community is which one favors them as a group allowing for enough concentration to elect one to the Erie County Legislature?

A few speakers at the County Legislature on Wednesday favored the redistricting plan the Democratic bloc proposed  “some Hispanics living on the West Side said it keeps the West Side within one legislative district.”

The Miller-Williams plan ” creates two Buffalo districts, rather than one, where minority voters form a majority of all voters and are likely to elect a minority lawmaker. The two districts spread from the East Side to the West Side and split the West Side into more than one legislative district. Latinos there prefer that the West Side remain in one district.”

Does the plan provide for enough concentration of Puerto Ricans to elect one to the Legislature? Or how is it defining the minority voters? That Puerto Ricans compete with African-American voters in the two districts? Which minority group does the Miller-Williams plan favor?

Miller Williams and Adam W. Perry had met with leaders in the Puerto Rican community last Saturday morning while she worked with the Republicans to modify the Perry proposal.  Chito Olivencia, founder of the Puerto Rican political group NOSOTROS, “said the Miller-Williams plan does not allow for a district where Hispanics are assured they can elect one of their own.”

The group hosted a  fundraiser for Mr. Olivencia that included Assemblymember Sam Hoyt, Legislator Maria Whyte, Council Member David Rivera and Council Member Michael LoCurto at $50 a ticket at the Olivencia Center on Swan St., on May 20.

Michael Halberstam, a University at Buffalo Law School professor proposal, Perry and Miller-Williams are somewhat similar in creating two minority dominated districts through the West and East Side, “fusing African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods.”

So if Miller-Williams an African-American resides in one district while Betty Jean Grant and Maria R. Whyte in the other one what opportunity does it provide for the Puerto Rican community to elect one of its own if competing for voters with Legislator Grant proposed?

Puerto Ricans sought representation in the  6th Legislative district during School Board member Ralph Hernandez attempts in 2007 and  2009, but Legislator Whyte with the support of Assemblyman Hoyt won the seat twice since elected on January 2006.  Newly arrived in the City of Buffalo Whyte worked previously as the director for the Coalition for Economic Justice.

And Hispanics for Fair and Equitable Reapportionment in 1991 had brought court action when  the Puerto Rican community  gerrymander between two council districts Ellicott and Niagara. Adrian Rodriguez said one of the problems is hardly ever do the major parties Republicans or Democrats run or endorsed Puerto Ricans for political office.

So the Perry plan dilutes the voting power of Puerto Ricans diminishing their opportunity to elect one of  their own while the Barbara-Williams plan appears to pit Puerto Ricans and African-Americans. What to do now? Whatever happens Puerto Ricans must be in a legislative district allowing  the community an opportunity to be represented in the Erie County Legislature.  While under the old 6th legislative district though it was possible the Hoyt camp fought against it Whyte emerging as the representative,  a political scenario that happened in the last election.

It’s ironic that during redistricting of the Erie County Legislature Puerto Ricans are not represented and Whyte, she is off pursuing other political posts while the Puerto Rican community is left holding the political bag that offers little now unless the maps if unfavorable challenged in court. The redistricting challenges would have been different had a Puerto Rican instead of Whyte represented the 6th legislative district, but of course it doesn’t matter now or does it?

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