TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The map drafts for the City of Ithaca’s wards and Tompkins County’s Legislature districts are close to their final versions.

One of the major changes include the proposed addition of two new seats to the county legislature, upping the number of districts from 14 to 16. (The maximum number of seats permitted for the Tompkins County Legislature is 19.) The county’s districts were also made to be in a near-contiguous alignment with the city’s wards in order to reduce voter confusion. 

The county’s proposed districts would also land long-time county Legislator Rich John (D-District 4) in the same district as freshman Legislator Veronica Pillar (D-District 2). It’s the only example of incumbent legislators potentially having to face off if these proposed maps were adopted.

Hank Dullea, the chair of the Tompkins County Independent Redistricting Commission and also the City of Ithaca’s Redistricting Working Group, spoke with the City of Ithaca’s Common Council on Wednesday about the two sets of map drafts. 

“The reason that we are increasing the size of the county legislature […] is that it maximizes our ability to follow municipal boundaries to the fullest extent possible,” Dullea told the Common Council on Wednesday.

Proposed County Legislature maps (left), and proposed City of Ithaca Wards (right).

Acting Mayor Laura Lewis clarified during the meeting Wednesday that if there are no unforeseen roadblocks, the city maps would come to the City Administration Committee in June in the form of a local law, undergo discussion and potentially come before the Common Council for a final vote in July. They would then take effect for the 2023 election cycle. As the maps currently stand, no referendum is necessary to adopt them. 

Dullea said political equality was a large consideration, avoiding any side conversations with current or past members of Common Council about the maps. Members of Council instead testified before the committee during public meetings.

Under New York state law, the deviation (or difference) between the population of representative districts is allowed to be 5% at most. The ideal population for the county legislature districts is 6,609 based on the findings of the 2020 census. 

In previous years redistricting processes, the allowed deviation was 10%. This narrower permitted difference, Dullea told the Common Council, made drawing the draft maps “a real challenge” when considering that certain census blocks have populations of over 1,000 people. Census blocks are the smallest unit of a district, which are formed by the perimeter four streets make. Districts must follow the borders of census blocks, or municipal borders.

The nitty gritty changes

The city and county maps are nearly contiguous with one another, and all are correspondingly numbered (i.e. Ward 1 corresponds with District 1, Ward 2 corresponds with District 2, etc). 

Within the city, the only apparent border discrepancy between the proposed county legislature districts and Ithaca’s ward districts is between the City’s 1st and 2nd Wards, and the county’s District 1 and 2.

District 2 of the county includes a heavily trafficked area on Ithaca’s West End, known colloquially as the “octopus,” where Route 13 splits off between North Fulton and South Meadow. This area of the “octopus” is included in Ward 1 of the City’s maps.

Compared to the current county legislature map, the districts within the City of Ithaca and the Town of Ithaca are the ones that seem like they will undergo the most change.

Current Tompkins County Legislature Districts (right). Proposed County Legislature Districts (left).

Two of the county legislature districts within the city would end up expanding past the city’s borders in order to meet legal requirements of population. The draft map’s version of  District 1 would grab an area of land along the western shore of Cayuga Lake in the Town of Ithaca, including Cayuga Medical Center. 

District 5 would include an area in the Town of Ithaca that is oddly separated by the Village of Cayuga Heights and the rest of the Town of Ithaca.

Currently, none of the county legislature’s City of Ithaca districts go past the city’s municipal borders.

A more detailed look at the changes of the City’s wards was reported by the Ithaca Voice in March.

Other notable changes under this proposal include a district separating the Village of Cayuga Heights from the Village of Lansing. Cayuga Heights would be paired with a portion of The Town of Ithaca and areas of Cornell University’s campus. The Village of Lansing would be paired with areas in the Town of Lansing and the Town of Ithaca.

There are three legislature seats that would become open and without an incumbent under the current district draft. Those are district 3, which spans the City of Ithaca’s East Hill and South Hill neighborhoods; district 5, which is within much of Cornell’s campus, a part of the Town of Ithaca along east shore; and district 12, which includes the south corner of The Town of Ithaca, running along NYS Route 79 and Coddington Road.

The legislature districts that represent Tompkins County’s rural towns and villages have largely kept their current shapes in the proposed map draft. There are some shifts in the borders, although none infringe on any communities of interest, although one comes close in the hamlet of McLean, which straddles the border of the Towns of Groton and Dryden. The southern area around McLean is paired with a district mostly comprising the Town of Dryden. McLean’s hamlet center, and northern areas are paired with a district that mostly encompasses the Town of Groton.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at jjordan@ithacavoice.com Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn