Committee of 70 has oversight plan for Philadelphia’s redistricting efforts

The proposal was submitted to City Council members Monday. More than 80 grassroots organizations in Philadelphia support the redistricting oversight proposal

By: - October 27, 2021 2:37 pm

Philadelphia City Hall (Flickr Commons)

By Brian Saunders

PHILADELPHIA —  Philadelphia needs districts that represent and serve its diverse populations accurately and fairly. But, unfortunately, the city’s neighborhoods have been gerrymandered severely over the past 20 years.

The Committee of 70 and the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), Ceiba, and Black Voters Matter held a briefing Tuesday morning to discuss the Philadelphia City Council’s 2021 redistricting efforts and permanent reforms that would create district boundaries that limit political manipulation and prioritize communities.

“One of the main messages that we really need to convey here is that the stakes are high the stakes are always high when we redraw political boundaries,” said Pat Christmas, policy director of Committee of 70.

City Council is expected to introduce a bill about redistricting soon. Christmas said that the legislation has six months to be submitted as law based on the release of the Census. So Philadelphia has until Feb. 12, 2022, to have redistricting maps passed as law, based on the Aug. 12 release of Census data.

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“So what’s interesting and somewhat unusual about our process here in Philly is that if this redistricting bill has not become law within the six months, then, all 17 councilmembers — even the at-large members — will start to go without their paychecks. And the six-month timeline here is based on the release of the U.S. Census Bureau redistricting data,” he said.

The Committee of 70 submitted a six-step plan for the redistricting process:

  • They want the City Council to prepare to collect public input and use that information.
  • Count incarcerated Philadelphians at their home address.
  • Collect and analyze initial public input.
  • Release a preliminary map for general feedback.
  • Publish a final map.
  • Commit to permanent reforms for 2031.

Ceiba is an organization that promotes economic development in the Latino community of Philadelphia. The group’s executive director, Will Gonzalez, urges mapmakers to create and draw lines that accurately represent the Hispanic population and maximize the opportunities for exponential growth for the community.

“Hispanic communities are communities of interest,” Gonzalez said. “They are self-defined groups of people who share bilingual and bicultural characteristics have their own cultural and linguistically appropriate civic organizations. Churches, schools, businesses, or social institutions that share a common interest. They mostly live in compact footprints without geographic barriers. We urge the map makers to draw legislative districts that take into account the streets neighborhoods and important hubs that make Hispanic communities unique because landmarks, cultural districts, industries, employers, where kids go to school with families go to church in the location of neighborhood-based social service organizations when served.”

One Pennsylvania (One PA) serves marginalized communities and works to give them a voice that is otherwise not heard or represented.

“Redistricting historically has been continued to be used as a disenfranchisement tool to voters, particularly people of color,” said Brittany Smalls, Eastern Regional Director of One PA.

“So we know that is a significant racial equity issue for the city is to address the cycle.”

Smalls is working to ensure those incarcerated are counted correctly by their home addresses, accurately represented when they return to society.

“So it will be very critical for us to gain the power back voting power back into those districts,” Smalls said.

“We need to make sure that all of our community gets informed and involved on issues and that we are not diluting our power outside of the areas where we most have community communities support.”

John Chin, executive director of PCDC, said his organization plays many roles in the community. It provides social services to ensure financial empowerment for those who are impoverished, he says.

“This is a regulated mandatory by law exercise every 10 years,” Chin said.

“And we want to ensure that the residents of this city in this state have their process that maximizes their opportunity to be represented fairly by their elected officials. And that’s what this conversation today is really about,” Chin said.

The proposal was submitted to City Council members Monday. More than 80 grassroots organizations in Philadelphia support the redistricting oversight proposal.

Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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