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Redrawing the Seventh District

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Leafydragon.jpgTen years ago, the powers-that-be tried to save Rick Mariano's council seat by redrawing the lines of the Seventh District.  The object was to dilute the Latino vote by adding more white people to the mix.  To do that, they had to push tiny strands of the district into the Northeast.

The result was politically effective but geographically inelegant.  The Seventh today resembles one of those bizarre underwater sea creatures, like the Leafy Lady Dragon pictured above.  Yuck.

Mariano's backers were able to save Rick from Latino voters, but they couldn't save Rick from himself.  The reapportionment fight that centered on saving Mariano's seat led to a long period during which City Council did not get paid. (The punishment demanded by the City Charter for failing to reach agreement on new boundaries.)

This left Mariano short of cash, so he solicited bribes from businessmen in his district, then clumsily tried to cover up his tracks.  Subsequently, Rick went to jail.

It is time to reapportion again and Latino leaders are lobbying to get the Seventh redrawn so that it resembles most other council districts: geographically compact and contiguous.  The goal is to have the Seventh go from being 50 percent Latino, which it is today, to 58 percent Latino with new boundaries.

Latino leaders say their time has come because of a large increase in Latinos in the last 10 years in Philadelphia.  As the 2010 U.S. Census showed, Latinos now constitute 12 percent of the city's population.

The Latino leaders were smart to make their argument based on the Latino presence in the city, as opposed to Latino participation in the electoral process. The fact is that it is possible to create a district that is 58 percent Latino and still have a, um, gringo candidate win because Latinos don't vote.

 

The Latino leaders were smart to make their argument based on the Latino presence in the city, as opposed to Latino participation in the electoral process. The fact is that it is possible to create a district that is 58 percent Latino and still have a, um, gringo candidate win because Latinos don't vote.

That's a slight exaggeration.

Latinos do vote, but at rates far below other racial/ethnic groups in the city.

I looked at voting data from the 19th Ward, the most Latino in the city, and found that over the last 10 years regardless of the election (for president, mayor, governor, etc.) Latino participation averaged 16 points below citywide turnout.

7th council district.pngIn 2008, for instance, when 62 percent of the city's voters turned out for the Obama-McCain presidential race, turnout in the 19th was 46 percent. In the 2007 Democratic mayoral primary, won by Michael Nutter, turnout in the 19th was (an abysmal) 23 percent, compared to a citywide 39 percent. In the Street v. Katz race of 2003, citywide turnout was 50 percent.  In the 19th, it was 33 percent.

Keep in mind that the 19th is in one of the poorest sections of the city and participation among low-income residents is....well, low.

But, getting the boundaries you want may be the easiest part of the process. Getting your people to vote may be the hardest.

 

-- Tom Ferrick

 

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