ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – Chemung County Executive Chris Moss has issued a veto for the redistricting plan regarding the county’s 15 legislative districts, citing alleged racist comments from a committee member, a lack of diversity and transparency on the committee, and the County’s declining population.
On July 19, Moss sent a letter to the Chemung County Legislature, chaired by David Manchester, announcing his veto of Local Law No. 4., which outlines a proposal for the 15 districts.
Among his reasons for the veto, Moss said that Manchester failed to diversify the Redistricting Commission with any people of color or any women. The committee, made up of five white men, was appointed by Manchester. It includes County Legislators Michael Smith, Robert Briggs, Scott Drake, Martin Chalk, and Thomas Sweet. Earlier this year, Moss called for the disbanding of the commission.
Smith, Drake, Chalk and Sweet all won the legislative primary races in June 2022.
Moss also cited alleged racist comments made by Smith while he was director of the Office of Emergency Management. According to a letter to Manchester dated March 4, 2021, Moss claimed that Smith referred to a group of black children by using a racial slur. Moss further alleged he heard Smith “indicate that ‘black men were ruining white women for all us small white guys'”.
In the letter, Moss claimed he and Manchester met in 2019 to discuss the alleged comments by Smith. In another letter sent to Moss, Manchester reportedly claimed he didn’t remember any such meeting and had no email records of the discussion.
Citing a lack of transparency from the committee, Moss further claimed that Legislator and Committee Member Thomas Sweet used his personal email account to conduct official committee business.
In February 2022, Manchester said a consultant would be used to lead the committee through the redistricting process.
To resolve the issue of a lack of public input, he said, “Part of it is actually taking this out to the public, it’s the most transparent process that we have ever been through as far as redistricting goes.”
Moss’s final reason for the veto was that the Redistricting Commission failed to take into consideration the declining population of Chemung County to adjust the number of Legislators. In a video posted the same day as Moss’s veto announcement, he included a chart of counties across New York State, their populations, and their respective number of legislators.
Moss pointed out that counties with much larger populations—such as Erie, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties—have a similar number of total legislators as Chemung County and therefore tens of thousands of more residents per legislator.”
“That’s why I think this committee was all set up about self-preservation,” Moss said in the video. He claimed that the committee consisting of legislators refused to reduce the number of legislators so as not to make the legislative races more competitive in the general election.
In a letter from February 2021, Manchester denied allegations that the formation of the Redistricting Commission had anything to do with race or gender.
Manchester told 18 News that while he hasn’t yet seen the July 19, 2022 letter from Moss, he was already aware that Moss would veto Local Law No. 4.
Moss’ full letter to the County Legislature can be read below: