For many Philadelphians, come 2015, their local councilperson in City Hall could change.
Every 10 years, the different districts breaking the city into chunks managed by City Council members are redrawn to reflect changes in population.
Using the 2010 U.S. Census data, council will soon redraw boundaries to make sure all 10 districts contain almost the same amount of residents. The final plan must be submitted for the mayor’s approval by Sept. 9, or else council members will not receive salaries until a plan is passed.
While courts have said that a 10 percent variation in district populations — about 15,000 people — is acceptable, Mayor Michael Nutter has said he would like that number to be closer to 5 percent.
However, it seems this time around, the river wards might be the areas most impacted by the changes.
Places like Northern Liberties and Fishtown have seen population increases in recent years, while areas in South and West Philly saw their populations decrease.
The district with most growth, the 1st District, includes parts of Fishtown, Northern Liberties, Port Richmond and Kensington.
Overall, while the city’s population stayed relatively the same in the last decade, there has been a shift of population to areas closer to the Delaware River and north of City Hall.
Last week, during the first of three public hearings on the issue of redistricting before members of City Council, Suzanne Biemiller, Mayor Michael Nutter’s chief of staff, testified that each district would likely include about 152,600 residents.
Noting that Maria Quinones-Sanchez’s 7th District has been named as the “most gerrymandered district in the United States,” Biemiller said that it was time for council to “slay the gerrymander” and create districts that are “compact and make sense.”
She also singled out Darrell Clarke’s 5th District, which covers Fairmount, Spring Garden, Brewerytown, Francisville and parts of Northern Liberties, Center City, Fishtown and much of North Philadelphia.
During the Aug. 16 hearing, residents were invited to discuss their hopes for the new districts, and Council President Anna Verna (D-2nd dist.) told the crowd that their input — as well as information gleaned from the upcoming public hearings — would be taken into account as the new districts are planned.
“We have a big task before us … Our job today is to listen to you and hear your concerns,” said Verna.
Jose Oyola, of Latino Lines, a coalition focused on city redistricting, presented ideas for how Quinones-Sanchez’s district could be consolidated to help “reflect the viable and growing Latino communities” of Kensington and North Philadelphia.
Former City Council member Angel Ortiz also spoke with Latino Lines to discuss the desire for a strongly Latino district, which would “give the community the ability to choose the best representation for this body.”
The 7th District was often described as a “corkscrew” last week, as it winds north from 5th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue all the way to the Roosevelt Boulevard at Grant Avenue in the Northeast. Ortiz said redistricting could create a district that best serves the community, which has grown in Latino population by about 46 percent from the year 2000 to 2010.
“This community has been fractured. It has been gerrymandered,” said Ortiz. “It’s time to make the 7th District the district it’s supposed to be.”
Elaine Tomlin, a resident of the 42nd Ward, which centers around Rising Sun Avenue and the Roosevelt Boulevard, expressed concern over the fact that the ward is currently split between three districts. She said that makes it difficult for the community to unite behind one councilmember.
George Matysik, of Philabundance, agreed with Tomlin, noting that if the plan can be created without splitting wards between councilmembers, it would go a long way to protect the public from gerrymandering.
It would “allow for a less artistic interpretation of our districts,” he said of working to keep wards from being split in the upcoming redistricting talks.
Adam Lang, of Brewerytown, related council’s plan to a videogame, saying the matter needs to be taken more seriously and that council needs to also take neighborhoods into account when creating the new district map.
“Redistricting isn’t simply a game of Tetris where you’re putting blocks together,” he told council members, as he stressed the importance of the city’s neighborhoods.
In the river wards, most neighborhoods are covered by more than one district. In Fishtown, residents are served by the Clarke’s 5th District, Quinones-Sanchez’s 7th District, and outgoing Councilman Frank DiCicco’s 1st District. In Northern Liberties, DiCicco represents the neighborhood as far west from the Delaware as Fourth Street, where Clarke picks up.
Port Richmond, on the other hand, is the meeting ground for the 1st District and the 6th District, which goes as far south as Allegheny Avenue. Politically, that can leave the neighborhood looking like something of a broken entity: while the 1st District is often viewed as a South Philly district, the 6th is largely seen as a Northeast Philly district.
In the 1st, South Philly’s Mark Squilla is running unopposed to replace DiCicco this fall. In the 6th, East Torresdale’s Bobby Henon, a Democrat, is a likely favorite to replace the retiring Joan Krajewski.
Democrat William Greenlee said that, as one of the seven at-large council members who serve the entire city, as opposed to the 10 members of council who serve a specific geographic district, he’d like to see the future plan create districts that are “as compact as possible.”
“The districts shouldn’t slither all over the place,” he said as he ran his finger along a map of Philadelphia’s districts, pointing out the long, winding reach of the 7th District. “We want to try to keep neighborhoods in the same district. That would be ideal.”
“But, that’s easier said than done,” admitted Greenlee.
More redistricting hearings
There will be two upcoming hearings held to gather public input on the new boundaries for councilmanic districts.
On Wednesday, Aug. 31, at 5 p.m., there will be a meeting at Esperanza Academy Charter High School, at 301 W. Hunting Park Ave.
On Sept. 6, there will be a second meeting to gather public input at Albert Einstein Medical Center’s Gouley Auditorium, 5501 Old York Road. This meeting will be held at 7 p.m.
Also, if you’d like to try your hand at redrawing Philadelphia’s districts, visit www.FixPhillyDistricts.com. There is an ongoing contest for the plan voted the best by site visitors and judges that will end on Sunday, Aug. 28. Winning plans will receive $500 and will be published by local media outlets.
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org