Funny things can happen in legislative redistricting.
Take the 169th state legislative seat in Northeast Philadelphia. When Pennsylvania’s Reapportionment Commission finished its work, the seat vanished and reappeared 100 miles away in York County, in south central Pennsylvania.
Democrat Darrell Raubenstine of Hannover has been gearing up to run for the new seat.
“I set up my campaign manager, treasurer, and we had all our street lists set up to go out and do our canvassing in the new territory,” Raubenstine said.
But on Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed out the redistricting plan for all 253 state House and Senate seats. So districts reverted to their previous boundaries, and the seat Raubenstine was running for vanished again and reappeared back in Philadelphia.
Raubenstine is hardly alone in having his plans up-ended.
Scores of candidates across the state are suddenly confronted with drastically different districts, and have to decide whether they can, or want to, run.
“It is causing statewide consternation,” said state Rep. Mark Cohen of Northeast Philadelphia. “It’s totally unclear when the primary takes effect, and it’s totally unclear who lives in what districts ultimately.”
A case in point
Cohen’s own district is an interesting case.
It’s s an axiom of politics that redistricting favors incumbents. And while many Democrats condemned the proposed boundaries, Cohen is one who was willing to live with the new plan. That may be because it undermined a potential challenger, Haitian-American community activist Numa St. Louis.
“When I saw the newly redrawn map, I was appalled,” St. Louis said.
St. Louis believes Cohen exerted influence on the reapportionment commission to undermine his candidacy, even to the point of cutting his home address out of the district.
“I think that Mr. Cohen, upon hearing that I may be interested in running, sought to cut out not just my residence but everywhere else that my family may lie,” St. Louis said.
Asked if he tried to cut his opponent out of the district, Cohen said, “I did not make that a priority of consideration. I was aware that the changes would eliminate his address from the district.”
Cohen says the new map was a product of many parties’ input, including other legislators in Northeast Philadelphia. The reapportionment commission is composed of Republican and Democratic leaders of the state House and Senate, and a retired Republican judge appointed by the state Supreme Court.
St. Louis says he’d moved from the address cut out of the district anyway, and would have run against Cohen no matter what.
Court’s opinion awaited
The Supreme Court hasn’t yet issued an opinion explaining its ruling, so it’s not clear to what extent the court agreed with Democrats’ charges that the redistricting plan split up townships and boroughs to help Republicans.
State Senate Majority leader Dominic Pileggi, a Delaware County Republican, said you can quibble about a district here or a block there, but the overall map should not have been overturned.
“There are 253 districts. Each one of them is different. You can make a judgment in each one whether it became more fair to a Democrat or a Republican,” Pileggi said. “I don’t think you can make that judgment across the entire 253 districts. But I do believe it is a fair, legal plan.”
The big question hanging over candidates is whether the old districts will be in effect for the current election cycle, or whether the five-member commission that drew up the flawed plan can quickly craft a better one. If that happens, scores of candidates might have to switch gears again and run in districts they just abandoned, or confront a completely new map.
Elizabeth Fiedler contributed to this report.