POLS ON THE STREET: Is the Hill Getting Religion on Redistricting?

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CONGRESSMAN Robert A. Brady has selected the artwork of Danelly Cabrera, a 10th-grade student at Frankford High, to represent the 1st Congressional District in the 2018 Congressional High School Art Competition. Cabrera utilized digital media to create her artwork, entitled “Double Exposure.” It features birds in flight superimposed on the artist’s digital image. She used her hair as a metaphor for a nest from which the birds are flying. The work was also selected for The Center for Learning Through the Arts Award by the School District of Philadelphia. The exhibition will be on display for 10 months in the tunnel of the U.S. Capitol.

One of the more-surprising outcomes of the 2018 primary is a sudden interest in rethinking the way the 2022 elections will be planned – on the part of an unlikely lot of reformers: the General Assembly.

Gerrymandering, a perennial tongue-clucker for good-government types, has seldom troubled the actual gerrymanderers of both parties. But the recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to outlaw the 2012 congressional map produced by a Republican-controlled Harrisburg – and impose new, neutrally designed districts that comply with the State Constitution for a change – must have shaken the subsoil on Capitol Hill.

Bipartisan legislation has been advancing in both chambers to establish a supposedly balanced commission to draw district maps after the 2020 census. The move is supported by Republican leaders, including Senate State Government Committee Chairman Mike Fulmer (R-Lebanon), whose committee advanced its Senate vehicle, SB 22, introduced by State Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), on May 22.

L-R, HOUSE Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, honoree Congressman Brendan Boyle and honoree Charlie Dent, who retired from Congress last week, at City & State PA’s Power 100 event. More than 120 attendees enjoyed cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and each other’s company while enjoying misty vistas of Independence National Park from the fourth floor of Constitution Place in Old City. Boyle, who gave the keynote address, spent the bulk of his speech decrying the rising tide of partisanship in Congress, pointing out Dent, his recently departed colleague from the other side of the aisle, as an example to be emulated, not vilified. Photo by Bonnie Squires

It’s understandable that Democrats, who were battered by the last redistricting, may see the virtue of fairness now. It was a Democrat-dominated Supreme Court that ditched the old map, after all. But why are Republicans climbing aboard?

One possibility is that mounting citizens’ complaints are affecting legislators who read their mail. If Common Cause and Fair Districts PA’s petition drives are stuffing their inboxes, their constituents may be driving them to get religion.

Another explanation: They fear being whacked directly in 2020 by the same court that struck down congressional districts in 2018. The GA’s seats are as gerrymandered – and as unconstitutional – as Congress’s were. Observers say the SC sent an implicit warning shot across the GA’s bow that it could entertain a followup lawsuit, unless the legislature got busy cleaning up its act.

The proposed commission would include eight members of both chambers and both parties, plus three “nonpartisan” members appointed by a (partisan) governor. While it’s obvious this arrangement could be jiggered to various ends, its creative innovation of a two-thirds majority would rule out nakedly partisan gerrymandering.

HONOREES Nilda Iris Ruiz, from Associación Puertorriqueños en la Marcha, and HUD Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Joe DeFelice.

It would leave the door open, however, to gerrymandering for incumbent protection, a cause dear to every legislator’s heart. If lawmakers must, in the end, drink the poison of fair districts, they may fare best if they prepare the brew themselves, rather than leave it to justices beyond their control.

If lawmakers are to pull off a State constitutional amendment in time for the 2020 elections, they must push it through by this July 6.

PFT Did Well in Primary Picks

Teachers won big in the primary, says Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers President Ted Kirsch, a Philadelphia native son and public-school teacher.

COMMUNITY activist Theresa Marley is flanked by Freedom Valley YMCA Capital Campaigns Manager Jarred Barnes and Philadelphia City Councilman Derek Green.

Kirsch congratulated three AFT members – Lindsey Williams, Andrew Dixon and Chris Rabb – who won spots on the November General Election ballot in state Senate and House elections, respectively.

Rabb, he said, “is currently state representative for the 200th Legislative District in Philadelphia. A father, educator and social activist, he sits on several House committees, including State Government and Urban Affairs, and is treasurer of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus. Since his upset victory two years ago, he has fought for public schools, criminal justice reforms, living-wage jobs and accountability in government. As an instructor at Temple University, Chris helped organize 1,500 adjunct faculty members. He is unopposed in the November general election.

THE UNIVERSITY of Pennsylvania, Power 100 Presenting Sponsor, sent a contingent that included Joann Mitchell, Glenn Bryan, Craig Carnaroli, Anne Papageorge and Maureen Rush, seen here with City & State PA intern Jack Goryl.

“Lindsey, who is communications and political director for the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers Local 400, fought hard in a competitive race for the Democratic nomination in the pivotal Senate District 38.

“Dixon, who ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination in Bucks County’s 29th Legislative District, is the lead organizer for the American Federation of Teachers in New Jersey.

“The Pennsylvania General Assembly needs more members like Lindsey, Chris and Andrew, who have the strength, commitment and background to stand up and fight for education, union members and middle-class Pennsylvanians.”

Kirsch’s union did well in many Philadelphia races, coming out ahead in many contested state rep races. It did not succeed in unseating Congressman Dwight Evans (D-Phila.) with rival Rev. Kevin Johnson; but in endorsing Evans’ foe, PFT was following up on its longstanding enmity to Evans, whom it resents for working to set up the School Reform Commission when he was a powerhouse in the State House.

Kenyatta Claims Many Door Knocks

STATE REP. Martina White, a repeat honoree, is flanked by City & State Director of Pennsylvania Operations Allison Murphy and past ‘40 Under 40’ honoree Frank Iannuzzi, legislative director for Philadelphia City Councilman Derek Green.

Endorsed candidate for state representative in Lower North’s 181st Legislative District, Malcolm Kenyatta jumped out boldly and early in his campaign when State Rep. Curtis Thomas, Jr. (D-N. Phila.) was still mulling retirement.

Kenyatta’s campaign knocked on 10,000 doors, the candidate says. He scored key endorsements from major political, labor, and progressive groups – ranging from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO to the Democratic Party, Former Gov. Ed Rendell and Sen. Shirley Kitchen, to the 215 People’s Alliance and Neighborhood Networks. He won endorsements from the LGBT-focused Victory Fund and Liberty City Democratic Club as well as local chapters of Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women.

His personal efforts overcame the lax backing of some wards in that district, some observers note.

Kenyatta’s victory could lead to his being the first openly gay person of color ever elected to the Pennsylvania State House. Now 27-years old, he will also be the third-youngest. Oddly, one of his competitors in this four-way race was also a gay Black man.

First, though, Kenyatta must get past Milton Street, who is running against him on the Republican ticket in the fall. Both have famous names.

Kenyatta is graduate of Temple University and the grandson of civil-rights leader Muhammad Kenyatta, who ran for Philadelphia Mayor in 1975 against Frank Rizzo.

Will Incumbency Wear on Kenney?

The 2018 primary is over. Let the 2019 primary begin in Philadelphia!

Speculation focuses on Mayor Jim Kenney. He started out his term in a blaze of public affection. But love is known to grow cold in politics. Can it happen to him by next year?

Most attention now beams in on his many tax-increase policies. All have strong and popular constituencies.

But beyond a certain point, American voters are prone to groan about politicians bearing taxes. And incumbents bear the burden of their complaints.

We hope the mayor has renewed his re-election insurance, heading into the next electoral cycle.

Hitt Moves on

One of Kenney’s most-talented aides, spokeswoman Lauren Hitt, who steered him through his election campaign without nicking the curb and laid out an effective communications system once elected, has moved on to another challenge.

Hitt has been hired by New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, who is an ally of New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and a foe of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

New York is not our state to comment on. But we can report that Hitt is a good hire with a bright future in political communications.

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