Philly Council hears public’s ideas on election map

    Philadelphia City Council Tuesday gave the public a midmorning chance to weigh in on the controversial process of redistricting during the first public hearing on redrawing city council district lines.

    Chopping up the city into Council districts is a tense process often clouded by politics and self-interest. It can result in funny things such as the 7th District.

    “There’s the tail that goes all the way up into the Northeast sector,” said Jose Oyola of the Latino Lines, a non-partisan coalition that wants Council to change the 7th District. Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez now represents the district.

    “What we would like to see is pretty much that tail removed, and the lines that are currently in the lower part of the 7th District expanded outwardly to represent the growth of the Latino community in that district,” Oyola said. “And we look forward to working with City Council and fixing the problem.”

    “Some significant redrawing of the map is inevitable,” said Council President Anna Verna who knows Council faces a big task.

    “The four districts that have lost significant population–the 3rd, 4th, 8th, and 9th–are all located on the west side of the city and are adjacent to each other,” Vern said. “Redistricting can not be accomplished simply by tweaking a few voting divisions here and there.”

    Mayor Michael Nutter’s Chief of Staff Suzanne Biemiller called on Council to “slay the gerrymander!”

    Biemiller says Council should create compact districts that make sense. The 7th District, she says, isn’t the only one that violates that goal:

    “The 5th Councilmanic District is also widely considered to be an unusually gerrymandered legislative district,” she said.

    So what’s so bad about a gerrymander?

    “Neighborhoods may be represented by multiple officials, which dilutes their voting power and sometimes leaves them feeling disenfranchised or underrepresented,” Biemiller said. “Residents and businesses don’t know who to call when they have an issue they want to weigh in on.”

    Councilman Bill Greenlee said he welcomes the public input.

    “I think they’d like to see a little bit more compact districts and I think we would too and I’m sure there are some people in certain neighborhoods that would like to see their whole neighborhood stay in the district,” Greenlee said. “I think in a perfect world, we’d like that too and we’d like the wards all to stay in one district. But sometimes the numbers don’t work out that way.”

    Council must approve a new map by an early September deadline–according to City Charter–or risk losing their pay.

    WHYY, along with the Daily News, is sponsoring a contest for individuals and groups to submit valid Council election maps using software created by local firm Azavea. The best maps will win prizes and be submitted to Council. Go to FixPhillyDistricts.com for details.

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