On Monday, May 16, Special Master Jonathan Cervas released his proposed congressional map. Cervas, an out-of-stater, with little to no connection to New York State, proposed a congressional map that would have disastrous consequences for Columbia County. If allowed to stand, Columbia County would be separated from both the Capital District and the Mid-Hudson Valley regions, as well as its county neighbors to the north and south. The proposed map groups Columbia County with Southern Tier and Finger Lakes counties, with which it has no commonality or relationship, in the newly constituted CD19. This is unprecedented and would result in a poor outcome for Columbia County when it comes to identity, representation, and allocation of resources.
“The redistricting process is taking place behind closed doors by a Republican judge and someone with little connection to our state,” said Sam Hodge, Chair of the Columbia County Democratic Committee (CCDC). “It’s an unconstitutional sham that will have long lasting consequences for our county and state. New Yorkers did not vote for an unelected guy from Pennsylvania to dictate our future. Columbia County appears to be an afterthought that was tacked on to a district that needed a few more people. We deserve better.”
Columbia County is located along the Hudson River in the Mid-Hudson Valley, and the Department of Economic Development has placed Columbia County in the Capital District. Under the proposed map, Columbia County would be isolated from both regions and be the only county in CD19 on the east side of the Hudson River. Columbia County should be part of a contiguous district of adjoining Mid-Hudson Valley counties. Based on current 2020 Census data, the combined populations of Columbia, Dutchess, Rensselaer, Ulster, and Greene Counties would be 748,393 people, which is within the range of +/-10 percent of the average congressional district.
To make matters worse, Columbia County has been excised from its peers and placed in the congressional district that shares little in common administratively. Our judicial, assembly, and senate districts have little, if any, overlap with other counties included in the proposed CD19. Effective government requires coordination and collaboration. The proposed map diminishes Columbia County's political power.
Columbia, Dutchess, Rensselaer, Ulster, and Greene Counties have a common history, developing major agricultural and industrial centers because of their proximity to the Hudson River. There is no such common history with counties located in the middle and western portions of New York State.
The five County Seat Cities of Hudson, Poughkeepsie, Troy, Kingston, and Catskill had a similar rise as major industrial cities that suffered steep economic declines in the first half of the 20th century but are now experiencing a great resurgence. These small to medium sized cities have diverse racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, socio-economic, and gender/sexual orientation populations. These cities have higher poverty levels than the surrounding countryside and have similar challenges to meet the need for infrastructure, broadband, workforce housing, and healthcare throughout the counties. Columbia County should be in a congressional district with its neighbors who face the same challenges and concerns.
Columbia County's proximity to New York City has created a rich, year-round arts community, with many artists, painters, dancers, musicians, actors, galleries, and antique stores that all create a destination for tourism. There is a significant and growing population of New York City dual homeowners. Newer residents are starting local small businesses, adding to the economic diversity in Columbia County. Columbia County is also home to many exurban communities of Albany, not Ithaca or Binghamton. Columbia County is tethered economically, culturally, and socially to its neighbors to the north and south. The proposed map ignores these connections, and in doing so, denies Columbia County of effective representation.
Columbia County shares similar agricultural, historic, artistic, and economic challenges and opportunities with Dutchess, Ulster, Rensselaer, and Greene Counties as part of the Mid-Hudson Valley region. Dividing Columbia County, or separating it from the Mid-Hudson Valley region, would seriously impact the residents who want to build for the future and be fairly represented in Congress.
“It would be a gross miscarriage of justice that will have long-term adverse consequences for our residents and our region if these district lines are allowed to stand,” said Hodge. “The new map is a disaster for our county and must be changed.”