Northeast Times

Musical borders

As City Coun­cil be­gins the task of equal­iz­ing its 10 dis­tricts, the very weirdly shaped 7th is at the cen­ter of at­ten­tion.

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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 bkenny@bsmphilly.com

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%)

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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