In a process that many felt was far too brief and didn’t involve enough public input, Philadelphia City Council passed a bill that made changes mandated by the 2020 Census.
By Denise Clay-Murray
On Thursday, Philadelphia City Council passed a redistricting bill that will now make its way to Mayor Jim Kenney’s desk.
After weeks of meetings among Council members, the maps were drawn and presented to the Committee of the Whole for review last month. Two sets of public hearings were also conducted.
Under the City Charter, all of the Councilmanic districts must be similar in size. Under 2020 Census, which necessitated the redrawing of the maps as it does every 10 years, two of the districts — Curtis Jones Jr.’s 4th District and Cindy Bass’s 8th District — shrunk while two other districts — Mark Squilla’s 1st District and Council President Darrell Clarke’s 5th District — have grown.
Because of this, Bass and Jones will have neighborhoods added to their districts while Clarke and Squilla will lose parts of theirs.
The bill was passed out of the Committee of the Whole last week after two public hearings on the measure. For many who attended those meetings, the process was too rushed and didn’t have enough community input.
According to the City Charter, Council had six months to put together a redistricting map and submit it to Mayor Jim Kenney for his signature. If this map doesn’t pass his muster, and Council has to go back to the drawing board, Councilmembers won’t be paid if they don’t meet the six-month deadline.
Lanera Edens, a North Philadelphia-based organizer with the voting rights group One PA, participated in a simulation where people made redistricting maps. The simulation took months for her and the other participants to do, she said.
Which is why she has issues with City Council’s process.
“Our process took months of time and thought,” Edens said. “But City Council wants to do this in weeks, which seems like it would be thrown together. Something that has this much of an impact on our daily lives should be done by a committee. It should be left to the community.”
One of the issues that took center stage during that meeting was the issue of prison gerrymandering.
Prison gerrymandering allows municipalities that house correctional facilities to count the inmates incarcerated there toward the population of that municipality instead of the place said inmate calls home.
It’s a rule that’s hurt Philadelphia a lot in the past, said Harold Fisher, a North Philadelphia organizer for One PA, a group that focuses on voting rights.
Fisher was incarcerated for more than 10 years and saw it for himself.
“Prison gerrymandering allowed the municipality to use me and those I was incarcerated with to get more resources,” he said. “Meanwhile, North Philadelphia, my hometown, was disenfranchised.”
Part of the reason for this is that most of the Commonwealth’s correctional facilities are put in places where there used to be more industrial businesses like steel mills and coal mines, Clarke said. Since correctional facilities are run by the commonwealth, they approximate what was lost when those facilities shut down, he said.
Because many of the Philadelphians incarcerated in these municipalities will eventually be coming home, they shouldn’t necessarily be able to be counted toward another area’s numbers, Clarke said.
In September 2021, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission decided that those whose sentences end before 2030, the date of the next Census, will be counted toward their hometown’s numbers while those whose sentences end after 2030 will continue to be counted in the municipality where the prison is housed.
While this will lead to anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000 new people being counted toward the city’s census total, the impact that will have won’t be determined until the city runs those numbers through software used to make these calculations, Clarke said.
That said, the impact probably won’t impact the individual districts all that much, he said.
“It’s improbable that these people will all end up in one district,” Clarke said.
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