Northeast Times

Proposed City Council districts up for vote

Two plans to ad­dress pop­u­la­tion change in City Coun­cil dis­tricts leave the river wards pretty much un­touched.

Dur­ing a Sept. 15 hear­ing, an in­de­cis­ive City Coun­cil gave com­mit­tee level ap­prov­al to two com­pet­ing pro­pos­als that would each re­align the city’s 10 coun­cil dis­tricts in slightly dif­fer­ent ways.

Both maps tar­get ger­ry­man­der­ing — a prac­tice long con­sidered a prob­lem in Phil­adelphia, with many dis­tricts cut in­to jagged, jig­saw-puzzle shapes for reas­ons that can only be ex­plained by polit­ic­al mo­tiv­a­tions. Neither map would be used un­til 2015.

At last week’s coun­cil ses­sion, mem­bers were di­vided in their sup­port. The pro­pos­als will be dis­cussed dur­ing a Sept. 22 hear­ing, and coun­cil could vote to ap­prove the new dis­tricts then.

Both maps could change be­cause mem­bers might in­tro­duce amend­ments.

“It was a very chal­len­ging day,” said City Coun­cil­man Dar­rell Clarke (D-5th dist.) as mem­bers broke for the even­ing on Sept. 15. “I have, and will al­ways con­tin­ue, to try to work out an agree­ment.”

It’s a pro­cess that takes place every 10 years to re­flect changes in Phil­adelphia’s pop­u­la­tion.

Us­ing the 2010 U.S. Census data, coun­cil mem­bers have re­drawn dis­trict bound­ar­ies to make sure all 10 dis­tricts con­tain al­most the same amount of res­id­ents. Frank Di­Cicco (D-1st dist.) and James Ken­ney (D- at large) were joined by W. Wilson Goode Jr. (D- at large), Blondell Reyn­olds Brown (D- at large), Curtis Jones Jr. (D-4th dist.) and Joan Kra­jew­ski (D-6th dist.) in back­ing one of the maps.

Clarke was joined by fel­low coun­cil mem­bers Maria Quinones-Sanc­hez (D- 7th dist), Bri­an O’Neill (R – 10th dist.), Anna Ver­na and Mari­an Tasco in back­ing a sep­ar­ate plan.

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

Both plans come in un­der a 10 per­cent vari­ation. Di­Cicco’s team pro­posed a plan in that makes the largest dis­trict the 6th, which would have159,445 res­id­ents; and smal­lest, the 4th Dis­trict, would have 144,562 res­id­ents — a total pop­u­la­tion dis­par­ity of about 14,883.

In Tasco’s plan, the largest pop­u­la­tion dis­par­ity is about 14,173 res­id­ents between the 10th Dis­trict, the largest with 160,247 res­id­ents, and the smal­lest (also the 4th dis­trict) at 146,074 res­id­ents.

The biggest im­pact both plans would make to the city’s cur­rent dis­tricts would be in cut­ting down the long pan­handle shapes and strange dis­trict lay­outs cre­ated through dec­ades of ger­ry­man­der­ing.

Both plans would see Demo­crat­ic Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quinones-Sanc­hez’s 7th Dis­trict lose its north­ern leg, which stretches from Adams and Castor av­en­ues north to the Roosevelt Boulevard at Grant Av­en­ue. This cre­ates a more con­densed 7th Dis­trict in the heav­ily Latino pop­u­lated areas of Kens­ing­ton and North Philly, which make up a large per­cent­age of the coun­cil­wo­man’s sup­port­ers.

Also, both plans would see Di­Cicco’s 1st Dis­trict give up ground north of Frank­ford Creek to the 6th Dis­trict, while the 3rd Dis­trict, due to the pop­u­la­tion in­creases in areas to the north and east, picks up ex­tra space to the south.

Coun­cil­man Clarke’s dis­trict loses a north­ern sec­tion that hugged the 7th Dis­trict, just south of Adams and Castor av­en­ues. The 8th dis­trict, in the city’s North­w­est neigh­bor­hoods, gains some land slightly to the east.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, Coun­cil­man Goode said these changes were made fol­low­ing three prin­ciples — cre­ate sym­met­ric­al dis­tricts, do no harm and re­move ger­ry­man­der­ing from the dis­trict map.

But, John At­tana­s­io, a Cen­ter City res­id­ent who won a me­dia-sponsored con­test to remap the coun­cil dis­tricts, test­i­fied and said the new maps seem to “have been cre­ated to keep the cur­rent dis­tricts as much as pos­sible.”

“We need to hit the re­set but­ton,” said At­tana­s­io, who said he tried to fo­cus on keep­ing neigh­bor­hoods to­geth­er as a ten­et of his plan.

He called Di­Cicco’s map “the bet­ter of the two plans,” but com­plained that there were still ele­ments of ger­ry­man­der­ing in both plans.

Though dif­fer­ences in the plans seemed small, they be­came stick­ing points throughout the hourslong hear­ing. The biggest dif­fer­ences are the areas shared between the 10th Dis­trict and the 6th Dis­trict in the North­east, and a piece of Straw­berry Man­sion that could be in­cluded in the 8th or 4th dis­tricts.

At last week’s coun­cil ses­sion, this seemed to be boiled down to two wards — the 56th Ward in the North­east and the 11th Ward in Straw­berry Man­sion.

Coun­cil mem­bers gathered in sep­ar­ate teams, shar­ing crime stat­ist­ics and whis­per­ing to one an­oth­er as aides ran in and out of coun­cil cham­bers, hands stuffed with pa­per­work.

Dis­cus­sion in the room seemed to fo­cus on Clarke po­ten­tially get­ting the dis­puted areas of Straw­berry Man­sion in­cluded in his dis­trict, which he didn’t seem op­posed to dur­ing the meet­ing.

“People keep mov­ing everything without telling me. First it was in, then it was out,” said a vis­ibly frus­trated Clarke as the meet­ing wore on. “As the second most ger­ry­mandered dis­trict in the city, any­thing would be an im­prove­ment.”

In the dis­puted areas of the North­east, many have said the con­cern is that Re­pub­lic­an Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill might not want to have the 56th Ward — and Demo­crat­ic ward lead­er John Sabat­ina — in his dis­trict.

However, O’Neill said that wasn’t the case.

“It’s nev­er been about Re­pub­lic­an voters,” he said. “It’s a mat­ter of every­one get­ting what’s best for them.”

At the end of the day, little was re­solved, with amend­ments that were presen­ted to Di­Cicco’s plan shot down by a coun­cil vote.

Now, both plans will be presen­ted on Thursday, Sept. 22, with each hav­ing the chance to be the fu­ture lay­out of the city’s dis­tricts.

After last week’s meet­ing, a tired Quinones-Sanc­hez said she was dis­ap­poin­ted that the pro­posed amend­ments, which she said could have been a com­prom­ise, were re­jec­ted.

But, she said, new amend­ments could be presen­ted when the bills are read again later this week.

“If that’s what it’s go­ing to take, then it’s go­ing to take more time,” said the coun­cil­wo­man. “I wish we could have come to a con­clu­sion on this one.”

Cer­tainly, coun­cil mem­bers would all like to see a fi­nal de­cision made. Per a rule in the city’s Home Rule Charter, mem­bers haven’t re­ceived any pay since Sept. 9, the dead­line for the fi­nal plan.

No coun­cil mem­ber will re­ceive a salary un­til the fi­nal plan is in the may­or’s hands.

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com 

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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