Public voices on redistricting


With a deadline for drawing new City Council districts about a month away, Council holds its first public hearing on the issue Tuesday, beginning at 10:30 a.m. in City Council chambers.  Suzanne Biemiller, the mayor’s chief of staff, is the leadoff speaker, followed by six individual and groups with different perspectives on what Council should do.

A coalition of Hispanic organizations called Latino Lines is pushing for Council to strengthen the concentration of Latino voters in the 7th Council district, where Democrat Maria Quinones Sanchez is the incumbent. The district is already nearly 50 percent Hispanic, despite irregular boundaries that extend nearly nine miles from Kensington to Rhawnhurst.

Other witnesses will include Elaine Tomlin, Democratic leader of the 42rd ward, which includes Olney and Feltonville but is split into three different Council districts.  “All our Council people are good, but we just want one, whoever it is,” Tomlin said Monday.

Bob Santoro of South Philadelphia says it’s the wrong time to be changing Council boundaries, just three months since the parties chose candidates in the May primary election. He says the City Charter should be amended to leave the current districts in place for the next four years, changing them in advance of the next Council races in 2015.

Zack Stalberg, executive director of the Committee of 70 civic organization, complained that the public hearings  – scheduled for Aug. 31 and Sept 6 as well as Tuesday – “are occurring too late to allow Council to genuinely take the public’s views into account by the time the official period for redistricting ends on September 9….” He urged Council to  “take its time to produce a fair and equitable redistricting plan that is as nonpolitical as possible” – in spite of Charter language that will suspend Council paychecks after that date,  until new boundaries are set.

“Since the 17 Council members will ultimately receive all the salary they are owed, delay matters less than doing redistricting right for the city’s 1.5 million residents,” Stalberg said in a letter to retiring Council President Anna C. Verna.  Council could have avoided its scheduling crunch, Stalberg said, if it had started work on redistricting shortly after March 9, when the city’s new census figures were released.