Northeast Times

Council redistricting leaves O’Neill feeling a bit ‘blue’

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 bkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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