Albany is the venue for LATFOR’s third public hearing, taking place on Thursday, August 4th, 2011. Since this hearing will be held at the state capital in the legislature’s own office building, we expect it to attract a wide variety of interest groups and politicians from all over the state.
However, as with Syracuse and Rochester, Common Cause/NY’s analysis will focus on the state legislative districts in the region in which the hearing is taking place, in this case the “Capital Region” of Albany-Troy-Schenectady.
It is first important to point out that in contrast to the general perception of upstate population trends, the Capital Region and each of the three cities all grew in population from 2000 to 2010. Albany, Troy, and Schenectady collectively grew 3.6% while the region as a whole (defined as all cities and towns within 15 miles of Albany) grew over 5%.
This growth marks a historic reversal from four decades of population decline from 1960 to 2000 and was driven by growth among minority communities. While the white population of the region continued to decline, this decline was outweighed by a near 30% increase in the black population and a Hispanic community that almost doubled in size.
While minority populations grew throughout the region, black and Hispanic communities remain clearly concentrated in Albany, Troy, and Schenectady.
In addition to having higher numbers of minority residents, the city populations share other commonalities compared to the surrounding region. Residents of Albany, Troy, and Schenectady have lower incomes than residents of the surrounding towns, are less likely to own their homes, are less likely to be employed in white collar jobs, and are more dependent on public transit.
All of these factors are important in determining the legislative decisions that would serve the best interests of these communities.
For the State Senate, it would be ideal if at least two of the three cities could share a district but because the state constitution emphasizes maintaining the unity of counties, it is difficult to do so. Albany County, with a population of 304,204, is within 2.6% of the ideal population of a State Senate district in the current 62 member format and thus must form its own district. Troy in Rensselaer County and Schenectady in Schenectady County are separated by Saratoga County and could only be combined by dividing the counties multiple times.
The State Constitutional guidelines on keeping counties intact also prevents the individual cities from being divided in the manner of Rochester and Syracuse. The imperative to keep counties united makes the geography of State Senate districts in the Capitol Region less flexible than in other regions of New York.
However, the State Assembly districts are another story entirely. Albany, Troy, and Schenectady are each unnecessarily split between two Assembly districts (each city’s population could easily fit within a single 128,000 person Assembly district).
This cracking is most egregious in Albany where the black community is carved almost exactly in two, with an estimated 9,820 black voting age individuals in District 104 (McEneny-D) and 8,428 in District 106 (Canestrari-D). This division of the City of Albany between two Assembly districts has no relationship whatsoever with the characteristics of the local community.
The division of Schenectady between District 110 (Tedisco-R) and 105 (Amedore Jr-R) similarly cracks a distinct community of interest with no valid rationale.
The fact that the New York State Constitution does not prohibit the unnecessary division of cities as it does for counties and towns should not give the legislature a free hand to arbitrarily divide cities for political reasons. In the Capitol Region, the urban minority communities responsible for the region’s newfound growth should be respected and allowed the opportunity to benefit from unified political representation in the Assembly.