Common Council continues redistricting delays; criticized by commission chairman

Current partial election district map of Poughkeepsie.

POUGHKEEPSIE – The Poughkeepsie City Council, by law, was required to approve new ward maps by December 1, 2022.  The maps were required to be submitted to the Dutchess County Board of Elections (BOE) for use in the 2023 elections in November.  The council, through a series of inactions and missteps, has failed to meet every deadline associated with the required redistricting using the most recent census data.

The council was supposed to address the redistricting at Monday evening’s council meeting.  The meeting was canceled due to “weather” that never materialized.

As a result of the council’s continued delays, Dutchess County Republican Elections Commissioner Erik Haight and his Democratic counterpart, Hannah Black have told Mid-Hudson News that the 2023 elections for the council races will be held using the existing maps.  “The latest date for new ward lines to effectively use in this year’s election cycle has long passed,” Haight said. “Any maps we receive from the Poughkeepsie Common Council won’t be used until the 2025 cycle.”

The council was required to establish a redistricting commission by March 1, 2021, to make recommendations for new wards, using the most recent census data.  The council, under the leadership of Sarah Salem, who recently resigned, was a year late in establishing the commission.  Under city law, the commission was required to make its recommendations to the council by November 1, 2021, with the council approving and submitting the map to the BOE by December 1, 2021.  All of those missed deadlines are violations of the city charter.  Salem’s replacement as Council Chairperson, Natasha Brown placed the blame on the shoulders of her predecessor.  “The entire redistricting process was delayed by the former council chair,” she said.

After recently rejecting the commission’s proposed maps, the council’s Democratic majority decided to consider a map prepared by Councilman Evan Menist, which gives the appearance of being drawn to preserve the current wards.  The proposal has raised concerns from Redistricting Commission Chairman Tom Lawrence.

Lawrence emailed the council members in advance of the canceled meeting, saying “The council appears to have chosen a path that does little to increase the voice of the growing Hispanic community.  Instead, the council map preserves incumbent seats, in particular on the city’s south side where the population is at best aging and, at the worst, declining.”  Lawrence also said, “The council’s current proposal dilutes the potential Hispanic vote by distributing heavily Hispanic census blocks among three separate wards,” adding “In my opinion, this is a regressive action inconsistent with the Voting Rights Act.”

He urged the council to reconsider using the maps that the commission spent months researching and planning.  “The city has a once-in-a-decade chance to expand the voices within its government and to broaden local representation.”