Redistricting could mean shake up for river wards

As City Coun­cil nears a dead­line to remap dis­trict bound­ar­ies, res­id­ents weigh in at pub­lic hear­ings. Two more are sched­uled.

For many Phil­adelphi­ans, come 2015, their loc­al coun­cilp­er­son in City Hall could change.

Every 10 years, the dif­fer­ent dis­tricts break­ing the city in­to chunks man­aged by City Coun­cil mem­bers are re­drawn to re­flect changes in pop­u­la­tion.

Us­ing the 2010 U.S. Census data, coun­cil will soon re­draw bound­ar­ies to make sure all 10 dis­tricts con­tain al­most the same amount of res­id­ents. The fi­nal plan must be sub­mit­ted for the may­or’s ap­prov­al by Sept. 9, or else coun­cil mem­bers will not re­ceive salar­ies un­til a plan is passed.

While courts have said that a 10 per­cent vari­ation in dis­trict pop­u­la­tions — about 15,000 people — is ac­cept­able, May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter has said he would like that num­ber to be closer to 5 per­cent.

However, it seems this time around, the river wards might be the areas most im­pacted by the changes.

Places like North­ern Liber­ties and Fishtown have seen pop­u­la­tion in­creases in re­cent years, while areas in South and West Philly saw their pop­u­la­tions de­crease.

The dis­trict with most growth, the 1st Dis­trict, in­cludes parts of Fishtown, North­ern Liber­ties, Port Rich­mond and Kens­ing­ton. 

Over­all, while the city’s pop­u­la­tion stayed re­l­at­ively the same in the last dec­ade, there has been a shift of pop­u­la­tion to areas closer to the Delaware River and north of City Hall.

Last week, dur­ing the first of three pub­lic hear­ings on the is­sue of re­dis­trict­ing be­fore mem­bers of City Coun­cil, Su­z­anne Bie­miller, May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter’s chief of staff, test­i­fied that each dis­trict would likely in­clude about 152,600 res­id­ents.

Not­ing that Maria Quinones-Sanc­hez’s 7th Dis­trict has been named as the “most ger­ry­mandered dis­trict in the United States,” Bie­miller said that it was time for coun­cil to “slay the ger­ry­mander” and cre­ate dis­tricts that are “com­pact and make sense.”

She also singled out Dar­rell Clarke’s 5th Dis­trict, which cov­ers Fair­mount, Spring Garden, Brew­erytown, Fran­cis­ville and parts of North­ern Liber­ties, Cen­ter City, Fishtown and much of North Phil­adelphia. 

Dur­ing the Aug. 16 hear­ing, res­id­ents were in­vited to dis­cuss their hopes for the new dis­tricts, and Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Anna Ver­na (D-2nd dist.) told the crowd that their in­put — as well as in­form­a­tion gleaned from the up­com­ing pub­lic hear­ings — would be taken in­to ac­count as the new dis­tricts are planned.

“We have a big task be­fore us … Our job today is to listen to you and hear your con­cerns,” said Ver­na. 

Jose Oy­ola, of Latino Lines, a co­ali­tion fo­cused on city re­dis­trict­ing, presen­ted ideas for how Quinones-Sanc­hez’s dis­trict could be con­sol­id­ated to help “re­flect the vi­able and grow­ing Latino com­munit­ies” of Kens­ing­ton and North Phil­adelphia.

Former City Coun­cil mem­ber An­gel Ort­iz also spoke with Latino Lines to dis­cuss the de­sire for a strongly Latino dis­trict, which would “give the com­munity the abil­ity to choose the best rep­res­ent­a­tion for this body.”

The 7th Dis­trict was of­ten de­scribed as a “cork­screw” last week, as it winds north from 5th Street and Cecil B. Moore Av­en­ue all the way to the Roosevelt Boulevard at Grant Av­en­ue in the North­east. Ort­iz said re­dis­trict­ing could cre­ate a dis­trict that best serves the com­munity, which has grown in Latino pop­u­la­tion by about 46 per­cent from the year 2000 to 2010.

“This com­munity has been frac­tured. It has been ger­ry­mandered,” said Ort­iz. “It’s time to make the 7th Dis­trict the dis­trict it’s sup­posed to be.”

Elaine Tom­lin, a res­id­ent of the 42nd Ward, which cen­ters around Rising Sun Av­en­ue and the Roosevelt Boulevard, ex­pressed con­cern over the fact that the ward is cur­rently split between three dis­tricts. She said that makes it dif­fi­cult for the com­munity to unite be­hind one coun­cil­mem­ber.

George Matysik, of Phil­abund­ance, agreed with Tom­lin, not­ing that if the plan can be cre­ated without split­ting wards between coun­cil­mem­bers, it would go a long way to pro­tect the pub­lic from ger­ry­man­der­ing.

 It would “al­low for a less artist­ic in­ter­pret­a­tion of our dis­tricts,” he said of work­ing to keep wards from be­ing split in the up­com­ing re­dis­trict­ing talks. 

Adam Lang, of Brew­erytown, re­lated coun­cil’s plan to a video­game, say­ing the mat­ter needs to be taken more ser­i­ously and that coun­cil needs to also take neigh­bor­hoods in­to ac­count when cre­at­ing the new dis­trict map.

“Re­dis­trict­ing isn’t simply a game of Tet­ris where you’re put­ting blocks to­geth­er,” he told coun­cil mem­bers, as he stressed the im­port­ance of the city’s neigh­bor­hoods.

In the river wards, most neigh­bor­hoods are covered by more than one dis­trict. In Fishtown, res­id­ents are served by the Clarke’s 5th Dis­trict, Quinones-Sanc­hez’s 7th Dis­trict, and out­go­ing Coun­cil­man Frank Di­Cicco’s 1st Dis­trict. In North­ern Liber­ties, Di­Cicco rep­res­ents the neigh­bor­hood as far west from the Delaware as Fourth Street, where Clarke picks up.

Port Rich­mond, on the oth­er hand, is the meet­ing ground for the 1st Dis­trict and the 6th Dis­trict, which goes as far south as Al­legheny Av­en­ue. Polit­ic­ally, that can leave the neigh­bor­hood look­ing like something of a broken en­tity: while the 1st Dis­trict is of­ten viewed as a South Philly dis­trict, the 6th is largely seen as a North­east Philly dis­trict.

In the 1st, South Philly’s Mark Squilla is run­ning un­op­posed to re­place Di­Cicco this fall. In the 6th, East Tor­res­dale’s Bobby Hen­on, a Demo­crat, is a likely fa­vor­ite to re­place the re­tir­ing Joan Kra­jew­ski. 

Demo­crat Wil­li­am Green­lee said that, as one of the sev­en at-large coun­cil mem­bers who serve the en­tire city, as op­posed to the 10 mem­bers of coun­cil who serve a spe­cif­ic geo­graph­ic dis­trict, he’d like to see the fu­ture plan cre­ate dis­tricts that are “as com­pact as pos­sible.”

“The dis­tricts shouldn’t slith­er all over the place,” he said as he ran his fin­ger along a map of Phil­adelphia’s dis­tricts, point­ing out the long, wind­ing reach of the 7th Dis­trict. “We want to try to keep neigh­bor­hoods in the same dis­trict. That would be ideal.”

“But, that’s easi­er said than done,” ad­mit­ted Green­lee.

More re­dis­trict­ing hear­ings

There will be two up­com­ing hear­ings held to gath­er pub­lic in­put on the new bound­ar­ies for coun­cil­man­ic dis­tricts.

On Wed­nes­day, Aug. 31, at 5 p.m., there will be a meet­ing at Es­per­anza Academy Charter High School, at 301 W. Hunt­ing Park Ave.

On Sept. 6, there will be a second meet­ing to gath­er pub­lic in­put at Al­bert Ein­stein Med­ic­al Cen­ter’s Gouley Aud­it­or­i­um, 5501 Old York Road. This meet­ing will be held at 7 p.m.

Also, if you’d like to try your hand at re­draw­ing Phil­adelphia’s dis­tricts, vis­it www.Fix­Philly­Dis­ There is an on­go­ing con­test for the plan voted the best by site vis­it­ors and judges that will end on Sunday, Aug. 28. Win­ning plans will re­ceive $500 and will be pub­lished by loc­al me­dia out­lets.

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­ 

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