All indications are that City Councilman Brian O’Neill will be getting the short end of the stick in Council’s increasingly controversial redistricting process.
But the eight-term incumbent in the Far Northeast’s 10th district — who also is the lone Republican among the city’s 10 district Council members — exhibited relative indifference when asked Friday about the newly proposed boundaries.
O’Neill said he could “live with” either of the two proposed district maps, which were introduced to Council last Thursday in separate bills. The councilman acknowledged that one of the proposals would be better for him politically than the other.
Yet, each map has his district moving farther into the 56th Ward, a territory covering Rhawnhurst, Bell’s Corner and portions of Bustleton and Burholme. The ward has a strong majority of Democrats and an influential Democratic leader in John Sabatina Sr.
A final Council vote on the issue is still possible by next Thursday, Sept. 22, O’Neill said. The new districts would take effect during the next municipal election year in 2015.
According to Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter, Council districts must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect shifts in population documented in the U.S. census. Each district should contain one-tenth of the city’s residents. In the 2010 census, the total population was 1,526,006. But geographically, there was a shift in the population away from the western and northwestern districts to the eastern and northeastern.
In addition to balancing the populations of the districts, Council this year sought to consolidate two sprawling, incongruous districts, the 5th and 7th, that had been gerrymandered in previous remapping efforts.
Under the current map, the 7th district stretches from its traditional center in North Philadelphia and Kensington well into the Northeast to include a portion of the 56th Ward. O’Neill also has a portion of the 56th, as does Councilwoman Joan Krajewski in the 6th district.
A working committee of Council President Anna Verna and Council members Marian Tasco, Darrell Clarke and Maria Quinones-Sanchez, along with O’Neill, formulated one of the newly proposed maps. Councilmen Frank DiCicco and James Kenney created the alternate proposal.
The future of the 56th Ward is the key difference. In the Verna-Tasco map, the largely Democratic ward would be split between O’Neill’s 10th district and the 6th district, a seat long held by Democrat Krajewski, who will retire in January. Democratic nominee Bobby Henon is favored to defeat Republican Sandra Stewart in the Nov. 8 election to succeed Krajewski.
In the DiCicco-Kenney map, O’Neill’s district would include the entire 56th Ward, a scenario that would add many more Democratic voters into the Republican-held district. Further, in the DiCicco-Kenney proposal, O’Neill would lose about a dozen divisions that he now represents in the 57th Ward, as well as one division in the 65th Ward.
The bills do not specify district population projections. While a variance of no more than 5 percent from the “ideal” of 152,601 is the stated goal, the districts may vary by up to 9 percent, O’Neill has said.
Under the current district boundaries, O’Neill’s district has 1.5 percent more people than the ideal, while Krajewski’s has 8.6 percent. DiCicco’s 1st district is the most populous, 9.7 percent above the ideal, while Donna Reed-Miller’s 8th district in the city’s Northwest is 9 percent underpopulated.
According to O’Neill, the maps were to be discussed publicly at a Council committee hearing on Sept. 14, after the Times went to press. Full Council hearings are scheduled for Sept. 15 and Sept. 22. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org