The strange shape of Senate District 47

The proposed district of State Senator Joseph Griffo.
The proposed district of State Senator Joseph Griffo.

In North Country Public Radio’s blog the In Box, Brian Mann describes the proposed redistricting of the New York State Senate as a naked power grab by Republicans (click here to read his post).

He writes that the plan “is really designed to do one simple thing: maintain a fragile GOP majority.” He points out that it pits six Democratic incumbents against each other in re-election races. “Meanwhile, not a single Republican lawmaker faces serious disruption or an intra-party battle,” Mann says.

This 1812 cartoon satirizes the redrawing of election districts under Massachusetts Govenor Elbridge Gerry.

In other words, it appears to be a classic case of gerrymandering.

I’m sure many of you know that the term gerrymander is derived from Elbridge Gerry, the Massachusetts governor in 1812 when that state’s Senate districts were redrawn to favor his party. One of the districts was said to resemble a salamander (though the contemporary cartoon at right depicts it as a dragon).

I looked to see if there are any salamanders in our Senate’s redistricting proposal. Somewhat surprisingly, most of the districts do not appear all that oddly shaped. Evidently, the boundaries alone do not reveal the behind-the-scenes machinations.

One glaring exception seems to be the 47th Senate District on the western fringe of the Adirondack Park. It stretches 145 miles from south of Utica in central New York to Massena on the Canadian border. At its narrowest point, in the town of New Hartford, the district is less than four miles wide.

Now represented by Joseph Griffo, a Republican from Rome, the proposed district includes eight towns wholly or partially in the Adirondack Park: Clifton, Fine, Croghan, Watson, Greig, Lyonsdale, and Forestport.

Is this an example of Griffomandering? Not really. The proposed district is not that different from Griffo’s current district, which was drawn in 2002. Nor is it radically different from the district drawn in 1992.

Nevertheless, as you might infer from the above map, it has be the oddest-shaped Senate district in the state. It sort of resembles an upside-down prawn from District 9 (the movie). Perhaps it’s been that way since 1812.



About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

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