Whether a rift existed in City Council before the passage of new district boundaries last week is a matter of contention. But now that the vote is done, the verbal and political sparring may just be starting.
Council on Thursday voted 15-2 to pass one of two proposed district maps. The City Charter mandates that a new map be drawn every 10 years to reflect updated U.S. census data. Each of the city’s 10 councilmanic districts, in theory, should have the same amount of residents, 152,601 per district.
The map approved by Council, with Republican Brian O’Neill from the 10th district and at-large Republican Jack Kelly as the only dissenting voters, doesn’t come close to an ideal population balance. It will take effect in 2015.
Based on current census data, Joan Krajewski’s 6th district would have 159,445 residents, while Curtis Jones Jr.’s 4th district would have 144,562. That’s a 9.75 percent variance from largest to smallest.
O’Neill claims that colleagues have attempted to sabotage his future re-election possibilities by drawing large pockets of his support out of his district.
“I think that was the intent, to make it more difficult for me to get re-elected in 2015,” said O’Neill, who will face Democratic challenger Bill Rubin in the Nov. 8 general election.
Councilman James Kenney, an at-large Democrat and one of two primary sponsors of the newly approved map, denies that O’Neill was the focus.
“If that were true, it wouldn’t (take effect) for another five years, so you would hope he would be able to create relationships in his new district (before the next election),” Kenney said.
Democrat Frank DiCicco of South Philly’s 1st district was the other lead sponsor. Co-sponsors included W. Wilson Goode Jr., Blondell Reynolds Brown, Curtis Jones and Krajewski.
Meanwhile, Council President Anna Verna and Councilwoman Marian Tasco offered a different map proposal. An ad hoc committee that also included O’Neill, Maria Quinones-Sanchez and Darrell Clarke formulated that plan, which Council voted to table indefinitely. Verna, Tasco, Clarke and Quinones-Sanchez all jumped ship on their own committee’s proposal in the face of strong support at the committee level for the Kenney-DiCicco plan.
The two proposals had some minor variations affecting a few divisions in North Philadelphia and a few others in Olney. But the boundary between O’Neill’s and Krajewski’s districts was the major difference.
Under the ad hoc committee’s plan, O’Neill was to have represented about 75 percent of the highly Democrat-registered 56th Ward in Rhawnhurst, Bell’s Corner and Burholme. In the Kenney-DiCicco map, O’Neill stands to get all of the 56th.
Meanwhile, O’Neill will stand to lose more than a dozen divisions in the 57th Ward, covering the Academy Gardens, Pennypack Woods and Winchester Park areas, which he says he has represented since he first took office in 1980.
Those seats will become part of the 6th district. Krajewski will retire in January. Democrat Bobby Henon is the favorite to defeat Republican Sandra Stewart in November for the seat.
“I’ve been through (remapping) before, but I had never seen Democrats that were taking areas from me like in the 57th Ward that were leaning more toward me,” O’Neill said.
Kenney argued that consolidating the 56th and 57th Wards each into single districts makes for more compact districts, much like changes to the gerrymandered 7th and 5th districts did.
“It’s a much prettier map,” Kenney said. “It’s simpler.”
And though the approved map does improve the population distribution among districts, it fails to meet or approach the statistical ideal. A 10 percent variance from largest to smallest districts is considered the legal maximum. Districts now have an 18.7 percent variance according to the 2010 census.
O’Neill’s district had about 2,200 extra residents when the process began, but will gain an additional 2,100 under the Kenney-DiCicco map. The ad hoc committee’s map would’ve put an additional 5,400 residents in the 10th.
Krajewski’s district is the second largest in the city under the current map with 165,674 residents, about 13,000 too many. Under the new map, the 6th district will have 159,445 residents, still about 6,900 too many.
Kenney said that the new map was the most practical resolution for a process that had dragged on for two months. Had Council not approved a new map last week, members’ paychecks would have been withheld. The deadline is in the City Charter.
“Part of the purpose was to have compact, contiguous districts,” Kenney said. “The ad hoc committee’s version didn’t get there.”
O’Neill, who is in the midst of the 2011 campaign, resolved to be around in 2015 and to win re-election that year in spite of the new boundaries.
“I’m charged up for it,” O’Neill said. “It’s an exciting challenge and I think it’s going to be a good thing (for me), even though that wasn’t their intention to do that.” ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org