Drawing on voter input for new Philadelphia Council district map

Philadelphia City Council must approve a redrawing of the city’s election map by Sept. 9. There’s incentive to meet the deadline. If council members fail to finish in time, as they did a decade ago, they will not receive a paycheck until the map is complete.

The council, which plans only one hearing to gather public input on this politically momentous task, must redraw the boundaries for the 10 council districts to reflect results of the 2010 census. The hearing will take place Aug. 16 in council chambers.

Ellen Kaplan of the Committee of Seventy, the government watchdog group, said that is not nearly as open a process as the council promised in a resolution approved before members began their summer break.

“They promised in that resolution that they would hold community-based hearings that would allow for public engagement and input on citywide redistricting,” said Kaplan. “Community-based hearings are not the same thing as holding one hearing in city council at 10:30 which is inconvenient for a lot of people 24 days before a plan has to be in place.”

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Kaplan said the map is important because it influences how competitive council elections will be in the next two elections, as well as determining who will be each neighborhood’s key point of contact at City Hall.

Council President Anna Verna said a council committee is working on a draft plan for drawing 10 districts.

“We still have council people who have to put their input into it,” she said.

Each district is supposed to have as close as possible to a tenth of the city’s population. Based on the census, that comes to 152,600 people per district.

No bitter battle, councilman vows

Councilman Brian O’Neill said he and his colleagues are focused on finding a consensus plan that will avoid the costly squabbling of 2001.

“This is not going to be a bitter battle, this is going to be something where everyone has give and take, people give up some things, people get some things,” O’Neill said. “But this is not like 10 years ago.”

Last time, the new election map–which includes a 7th District described as one of the nation’s most gerrymandered–wasn’t approved until four months after the deadline.

WHYY is co-sponsoring another way for voters to have input on the city’s election map. It’s a contest where voters or civic groups can use special software to draw their own ideal council district map. The best entries will win prizes. An information session on the initiative will be held 7 p.m. Monday at WHYY’s offices on Independence Mall West.

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