In the closed-door, backroom process that is Philadelphia City Council redistricting, two prevailing themes came to light last week in the aftermath of a distinctly tranquil public hearing on the subject.
Firstly, the 7th Councilmanic District’s days as perhaps the most gerrymandered legislative territory in the United States are numbered.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the sitting Council members seem to be actually getting along with one another as they slice up their political pie.
Yet, with a Sept. 9 deadline looming for the U.S. Census-driven re-mapping, Council members collectively and individually have revealed little about how and where they plan to rectify the shortcomings of the current map.
“Everything has a consequence and it’s still being played around with. But the atmosphere is very positive and cooperative,” said Councilman Brian O’Neill, the eight-term Republican from the 10th district in the Far Northeast.
Of Council’s 17 members, seven are elected citywide, while the remaining 10 are elected by district. The districts must be redrawn every decade in response to census results.
In the 2010 census, Philadelphia’s population was 1,526,006. So, ideally, each of the 10 councilmanic districts should have 152,601 people.
However, due to a general shift in the city’s population toward the east and Northeast during the last decade, three Council districts now have substantially more than the prescribed population, while four have substantially less.
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The largely overpopulated territories include Joan Krajewski’s 6th district, Maria Quinones-Sanchez’s 7th district and Frank DiCicco’s 1st district. Krajewski and DiCicco will retire at the end of this year, with Democrats Bobby Henon and Mark Squilla poised to replace them after having won primary elections in May. The general election will be on Nov. 8.
On the light end of the population scale are Marian Tasco’s 9th district, Donna Reed-Miller’s 8th district, Curtis Jones Jr.’s 4th district and Jannie Blackwell’s 3rd district. Those districts cover much of the northern and western areas of the city.
Balancing the populations among the 10 districts is a priority, Council members say. But doing that while maintaining the traditional territorial character of the various districts poses a unique challenge, considering the unusual population migration.
The new map, once approved, would take effect in 2015 before that year’s Council elections.
“It is different than you usually see and it makes it more challenging,” said O’Neill, whose district has about 154,800 residents or 1.5 percent above the ideal number.
In theory, the less-populated districts should gain territory and residents at the expense of the overpopulated ones. The problem is, the less-populated districts are contiguous, so their avenues for expansion are limited.
Likewise, the overpopulated districts are contiguous, so it may be difficult to reduce them in size without delivering additional residents to already over-populated neighboring districts.
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Krajewski, whose district has about 13,000 extra residents, expects that the 6th will lose some territory at its southern end in the Port Richmond and Bridesburg areas.
“I’m going to have to move up … and probably lose something in the lower end,” the eight-term Democrat said.
For now, the 6th district covers as far south as Allegheny Avenue in the 45th Ward. At one time, the district spanned as far south as the Reading Railroad just north of Lehigh Avenue.
“When I first came in (to Council), I had Port Richmond. I had ten divisions in the 25th (ward),” Krajewski said.
DiCicco’s district now covers the entire 25th Ward and part of the 45th. But it, too, is overpopulated. With about 167,300 residents, it’s the largest in the city.
Tasco, a six-term Democrat, represents West Oak Lane, East Oak Lane, Logan, Olney and a small portion of the Northeast. While her district’s population deficit is manageable — about 5,400 less than ideal — Reed-Miller’s neighboring district to the northwest is the smallest in the city with a deficit of 13,700.
Tasco is likely to yield some territory to Reed-Miller while gaining some in the Northeast.
“I may have to move farther up into the 35th Ward, two or three divisions,” said Tasco.
Tasco already has most of the 35th Ward, although O’Neill and Quinones-Sanchez also have portions of it.
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By all accounts, Quinones-Sanchez’s 7th district will likely vacate divisions in the 35th, 53rd, 56th and 63rd wards as Council will consolidate the district around its traditional population base of Kensington and North Philadelphia east of Broad Street.
Among a dozen speakers at the Aug. 16 public Council hearing were several representatives of the Latino Lines coalition, which is advocating for a Latino-heavy 7th district.
Former at-large Councilman Angel Ortiz called the existing 7th district “the most Puerto Rican district (in the U.S.) outside of the South Bronx.” Yet, he said, the current map “has fractured and gerrymandered” the district, to the detriment of Latino voters.
“It’s time that we closed the circle,” Ortiz said.
Although the 7th district stretched as far north as Cottman Avenue as early as the 1970s and has included a large portion of the 56th Ward since the 1980s, Tasco blamed more-recent political infighting for creating the district’s narrow, winding northeast corridor.
In 2001, Ortiz and then-Councilman Rick Mariano famously argued in Council President Anna Verna’s office over proposed boundaries for the 7th district, which Mariano represented at the time. Mariano later told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he threatened to knock out Ortiz’s teeth and throw him out a window.
“When we did it ten years ago, there was a lot of external politics that resulted in the 7th district,” said Tasco, who is said to be interested in succeeding Verna as Council president when the new session begins in January.
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Like Krajewski and DiCicco, Verna will retire from Council when her current term expires. Democratic state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson has won his party’s nomination to represent Verna’s 2nd district.
“This time, we’re looking at more compactness and not having gerrymandered districts,” Tasco said.
Councilman Darrell Clarke’s 5th district is similarly elongated toward the Northeast and is another likely candidate for consolidation, although its current population figure is merely 1,500 greater than the ideal.
“Ten years ago, the 5th lost a lot of population and this (census) they gained population,” Tasco said.
According to O’Neill, Council traditionally has set boundaries so that no district would have a population variance of more than 5 percent from the ideal. Four districts currently do not meet the “five-percent rule.” However, O’Neill said, Council is permitted legally to vary populations as much as 9 percent.
“That might make it easier to accomplish those (objectives),” he said. “If we go to the larger variation, I may gain some population.”
Council has not released a map showing proposed districts. During the Aug. 16 Council hearing, Verna said a map would be ready for Council’s formal consideration by Sept. 8. Two more public hearings are planned before then.
A Council vote could come as early as Sept. 22, Verna said.
In accordance with the City Charter, Council members’ paychecks will be withheld if the new map is not approved by Sept. 9. However, they are not scheduled to receive paychecks between Sept. 10 and 22. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Populations of Philadelphia’s 10 City Council districts in the 2010 census and percentage variance from the “ideal” population of 152,601:
• 1st district: 167,355 (+9.7%)
• 2nd district: 151,500 (-0.7%)
• 3rd district: 145,523 (-4.6%)
• 4th district: 142,030 (-6.9%)
• 5th district: 154,129 (+1.0%)
• 6th district: 165,674 (+8.6%)
• 7th district: 158,942 (+4.2%)
• 8th district: 138,868 (-9.0%)
• 9th district: 147,162 (-3.6%)
• 10th district: 154,823 (+1.5%)