Mommy, that Council district is scaring me
July 5, 2011By Dave Davies
Some eerie things happen in the natural world. The jewel wasp, for example, has the ability to slide its stinger into a cockroach's brain and make the bug docile, so the wasp can then grab one of the roach's antennae and lead it like a puppy to its nest. There little wasp larvae chew a hole in the roach's abdomen and gradually eat it alive (read to the end, and I'll tell you where I got this).
Only slightly less creepy is Philadelphia City Council's process of re-drawing its district boundaries, which occurs by law every ten years. Bob Warner has a nice primer on the process in today's Inquirer. One of my favorite parts of any re-districting story is looking at maps of the existing districts and figuring out what the shapes remind me of.
The fourth district looks a little like a boomerang.
The 10th reminds me of a lobster claw, ready to snap.
The fifth, maybe a dragon with a long neck.
The seventh, called one of the most gerrymandered districts in America, doesn't look like anything, except maybe a transformer that's been hit with a bazooka.
What very few of them look like are compact, contiguous communities that ought to be represented by the same Council member. These lines are generally drawn to preserve the political fortunes of those doing the drawing, which is how they've gotten so distorted over the years.
Re-drawing district boundaries is such a touchy and contentious process that it might never get done if it weren't for a clever 26 words inserted in the city charter:
"...the councilmen shall not receive any further salaries until the Council shall have passed and the mayor shall have approved a redistricting ordinance as herein required..."
The framers of the charter might have been better advised to take redistricting out of Council's hands altogether.
But the threat of payless paydays does ensure Council members will get the job done, with all the mischief that entails. As Warner notes, the last time Council discussed redistricting, one member threatened to throw another out the window. Council has until September 9th to get this done.
A committee of Council members is supposed to work on this over the summer, but so far there's no committment to any public hearings, other than that which would eventually occur when an ordinance is introduced.
You can get some good background and recommendations for a more transparent process at the Committee of Seventy's website. This bears watching.
Oh, and the jewel wasp story comes from the book Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart. You can hear her tell plenty of great bug stories in our interview on Fresh Air.