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Big changes, and challenges, coming in the north country

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LATFOR's proposed redistricting maps will bring huge changes to our state Assembly delegation.

But the process still has a long way to go before the maps, redrawn every 10 years to account for population changes, become final.

First of all, four members of the Assembly would represent our tri-county region if the lines drawn by a legislative panel are passed. It is currently two.

Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush's district would span into five different counties — part of St. Lawrence (losing all but Pitcairn), Jefferson (losing Henderson, Adams, Ellisburg and Hounsfield), all of Lewis County, part of Oswego County (losing Sandy Creek and picking up Albion, Amboy, Redfield and Williamstown), and now, part of Onedia County (picking up 12 towns there, where his district had not stretched before).

Assemblyman Will Barclay, of Pulaski, would pick up some of what Mr. Blankenbush lost in Jefferson County.

And Assemblyman Marc Butler would take the parts of St. Lawrence County that Mr. Blankenbush lost. That's a long drive for Mr. Butler, whose district stretches down through the long and sparsely populated Herkimer County.

The changes in Oneida County put Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, a Republican, in the same district as Assemblyman Peter Lopez, another Republican.

Ms. Tenney said that the change was little more than a political ploy.

"I am the poster child for gerrymandering if that's the case," she said.

Democratic Assemblywoman Addie Russell's district did not change very much, adding Hounsfield, in southern Jefferson County, and De Peyster, in St. Lawrence County.

"I'm disappointed that I'm losing St. Lawrence County," Mr. Blankenbush said. "I've worked a lot in St. Lawrence County, met a lot of great people. If these maps are the maps that come out, I'd be disappointed in losing that county. I'm also disappointed in losing southern Jefferson County."

LATFOR, a panel made up of legislators, drew the lines over the objections of good-government groups that wanted them drawn independently. The districts do not represent the final say-so on the matter. A public hearing on the maps is scheduled for Jan. 30.

The changes to the north country's Assembly district raised eyebrows among good-government groups. The fact that Mr. Blankenbush's district changed quite dramatically and Mrs. Russell's district didn't change much at all was par for the course, they said, considering what party was drawing the lines in the Assembly — Mrs. Russell's fellow Democrats.

"The fact that you would have a Republican change dramatically is something that’s consistent with some of the patterns we’ve seen in the past when you have a majority trying to make life more difficult for the minority members to get re-elected," said Alex Camarda, who works for Citizens Union.

Mr. Blankenbush's current Assembly district spans four counties — Oswego, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis. That outlay was already roundly criticized. According to state criteria, districts should follow county borders as often as possible. With this tentative map, it only got worse.

"Clearly, a district that is spread across five different counties does not show respect for the integrity of political subdivisions, which is a recognized criteria," Mr. Camarda said.

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