KINGSTON, NY – A map creating 23 new legislative districts in Ulster County was passed by the slimmest of margins last week during a meeting of the Ulster County Commission on Redistribution at a meeting sometimes controversial which saw the commissioners accusing each other of having political motives and a group of Gardiner residents threatening to go ahead with the redistricting plan.
The final map, which passed in a 4-3 vote on July 13, was lodged with the Ulster County Board of Elections on Wednesday. The map was chosen from two maps created following public hearings held in May.
Commissioners selected the map created by Commissioner Sarah DeStefano, who was appointed to the board by Ken Ronk, R-Wallkill, the Legislature Minority Leader, from a second map created by Ken Panza, a Democrat nominated by Majority Leader Jonathan Heppner, D-Woodstock. The commission declined to review a third map, created by County Planning Department staff member Robert Liebowitz, who helped the commission through the process because, according to DeStephano, he was a member of the public and the deadline for public submissions had already closed.
In addition to DeStefano, commissioners Travis Rask, Donna Lutz and Kathleen Waithe voted for the map developed by DeStefano. Commissioners Regis Obijiski, Andy Monk and Panza voted to integrate Panza.
Under the plan adopted by the commission, all but one of the legislative districts would see changes to the boundary lines; only District 22, which includes the westernmost towns of Olive, Denning, Hardenburg and Shandaken, would be unchanged according to the approved map. The boundaries of all other districts would be changed somewhat, although some districts would see a bigger change than others.
The most controversial changes were made to what is currently District 16, which now includes the entire town of Gardiner as well as part of the town of Shawangunk. The new map divides the city of Gardiner into two legislative districts, with the northern part of the city becoming part of the new District 17 – which now also includes all but the most northeastern part of New Paltz – and the rest of the town of Gardiner becomes part of the new District 16, which now also includes the central part of Shawangunk.
Panza’s proposed map also moved the boundary lines in all but District 22, but kept the town of Gardiner in a single legislative district.
At the July 13 commission meeting, several Gardiner residents opposed splitting the city into two districts, saying the city’s voice would be diminished and result in taxation without representation.
“We made it clear how important it is for the town of Gardiner to stay whole,” said Gardiner resident Tom Kruglinski. He criticized the commission’s 5-2 decision to leave Liebowitz’s card out of debate, saying it deserved the most thoughtful comments made during the public hearings. “It bothers me and it undermines the credibility of your work,” he said.
DeStefano and Panza said each other’s maps were gerrymandered and accused each other of developing maps based on political considerations, allegations each denied.
After the commission’s vote, several residents — many of whom are members of the city’s Democratic Committee — threatened to proceed with the redistricting plan.
The commission was tasked with using data from the 2020 U.S. Census to redraw the county’s 23 legislative districts to reflect population changes within the county. The county charter requires the map to be created by an independent commission, with the Majority and Minority Leader of the Legislative Assembly appointing two members each and those four members appointing three others from a list provided by the county executive. Although the commission is supposed to be independent, that has not stopped the commissioners from accusing each other of hijacking lines for political purposes.
In addition to dividing Gardiner between two legislative districts, the new map also sets up elections in the new District 9 between incumbent Megan Sperry, a Democrat, and Republican Herbert Litts, as well as between Ronk and fellow Republican Kevin Roberts, although Ronk has said he will not seek re-election.
The new distribution plan also creates two districts – District 17 in the town of Gardiner and District 12, which includes most of Plattekill and a small part of Marlborough – in which there would be no incumbent lawmakers. Speaker of the Legislature Tracey Bartels now represents the city of Gardiner; Roberts represents the town of Plattekill.
The new plan also retains three legislative constituencies within the City of Kingston. However, the new legislative lines do not follow existing constituency lines, meaning voters living in the same constituency could end up in different legislative districts.
The new districts will be used in the 2023 election to elect county legislators who will take office in January 2024.
Editor’s note: This story was edited July 21 at 3:08 p.m. to correct that Megan Sperry is a Democrat.