Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "GOP Puts Murtha, Mascara In Same District." December 11,
Republicans have devised a congressional redistricting plan that could force two of the region's veteran Democrats, U.S. Reps. John P. Murtha of Johnstown and Frank Mascara of Charleroi, to run against each other in next spring's primary.
GOP strategists believe the plan, which is designed to maximize Republican strength in the state's congressional delegation, could let the party increase its majority from the current 11-10 to as much as 13-6. The state is losing two U.S. House seats as a result of the 2000 Census.
The Republican-controlled state Senate was poised to adopt the plan last night and the GOP-controlled state House was expected to follow suit today.
More than half of the state's current Democratic House members would be forced into fratricidal primaries under the plan.
One of its ambitious features is a Republican strategy to pick off two House seats in southwestern Pennsylvania, once considered a Democratic stronghold.
The 4th District seat now held by Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Bradford Woods, will acquire North Hills communities that are now part of the 14th and 18th districts, currently held by Reps. William Coyne, D-Oakland, and Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale. Coyne's seat would be eliminated, and he is retiring.
In a decision seen as risky by some Republicans, Hart's district retains traditionally Democratic communities in Beaver and Lawrence counties.
Republicans covet a second seat in the region, to be carved south and east of the city.
That district would stretch horizontally from the growing suburbs near Pittsburgh International Airport through the South Hills, across the Monongahela River at White Oak, and meander east through Westmoreland County as far as Ligonier.
Senior Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, one of the key architects of the new configuration, have persuaded state Sen. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, to run in the district, which has a Democratic registration advantage but a voting performance more favorable to Republicans.
"Whoever thought Mrs. Murphy's kid would be looking at a congressional map, looking to run for Congress?" Murphy said in wonder last night. "It's something I've always thought of. I love this job, and I thought I was going to be here [in Harrisburg] many more years. But you have to ask yourself, where can you be more effective?"
The plan will leave Mascara with a tough choice: who to run against, Murphy or Murtha?
Mascara represents part of the newly configured district that Republicans set up for Murphy. But his his political base, the portion of the Mon Valley within Washington County, would be part of Murtha's redrawn 12th District, which will be stretched south and west to include communities in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties that are now represented by Mascara, including Mascara's hometown.
The map is bad news for Democrats in general, but contains notes of consolation for some Democratic incumbents, chiefly Doyle. He was once thought to be one of redistricting's prime targets.
While the new map leaves open the possibility that he will face a primary challenge, he would do so from a position of strength.
His newly configured, heavily Democratic district starts just west of the city of Pittsburgh and takes in McKees Rocks, Coraopolis and Kennedy. It includes all of the city, along with most of Allegheny County's eastern suburbs and the Mon Valley towns that lie within the county.
More than half the district is part of Doyle's current 18th District. Some Pittsburgh Democrats, including county Controller Dan Onorato, had talked about running for the House after Coyne announced his retirement, but the new map ensures that any city candidate would have a tough battle against Doyle.
Neither Doyle nor Onorato would comment last night.
The new map combines two Democratic congressional districts in suburban Philadelphia, eliminating one seat and forcing incumbents Robert Borski and Joseph Hoeffel to battle it out.
Republicans also drew the new lines so that two Democrats in the Scranton area, Paul Kanjorski and Timothy Holden, are put in the same district.
Composition of the state's congressional delegation could "reasonably" swing to a 13-6 majority for Republicans, said Steve MacNett, general counsel for Senate Republicans.
The new map drew predictable outrage from Democrats.
Aides to Mascara, who was elected to Congress in 1994, said they would consider a court challenge. His staff vowed that he would seek re-election, although it's not clear which district would present a better opportunity.
Murtha, first elected in 1974, is a powerful House veteran.
Some Democrats held out hope that the map could still be altered before final passage in the state House, but senior Republicans said that the plan represented a GOP consensus achieved behind closed doors in meetings over the past month -- in other words, a done deal.
Two Democratic representatives from the Philadelphia area have known for months that only one of them would likely survive the remapping of U.S. House districts.
With a vote on those boundaries looming this week in the state legislature, it appears that the once-a-decade redistricting will slightly favor Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel of Montgomery County over Rep. Robert A. Borski of Philadelphia.
"Borski thinks it favors Hoeffel," said Pennsylvania House Majority Leader John M. Perzel, a Philadelphia Republican who is perhaps the key decision-maker in the process.
Because of Pennsylvania's sluggish growth compared with other states, the state will lose two of 21 U.S. House seats starting next year. Republicans, who control the legislature, can pretty much draw the lines as they choose.
Hoeffel and Borski are almost certain to see their districts merged. That means they would have to run against each other.
Perzel said in an interview that he favors eliminating Borksi's Third Congressional District and folding part of it into Hoeffel's 13th District.
Although no final decision has been reached, it appears that the majority of the voters in the merged district would be from Hoeffel's home turf.
That would be a boost for Hoeffel. "My goal is for the legislature to keep a seat for Montgomery County, and I have worked hard to do that," he said.
Borski declined comment.
Over the last decade, Philadelphia has lost population while Montgomery County has gained. But more than Census data, which drive the redistricting, are involved. In pure political terms, Hoeffel has outworked Borski and has had stronger allies.
Hoeffel has run radio commercials, has sent out letters, and has gotten 13,000 signatures on a petition - all to influence the legislature to keep his district centered in Montgomery County. Perzel said that Montgomery County Republicans are now pressuring him to grant Hoeffel's wish.
"I think Hoeffel has been more aggressive," said state Rep. Alan Butkovitz, who represents a portion of Borski's district in Northeast Philadelphia.
Borski also has not had much help from Philadelphia political powers.
U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady, the city Democratic chairman, has his own interests. Perzel, who often needs Brady's help in political matters, has pledged to serve up a district that suits both him and the city's third Democrat in Congress, Chaka Fattah. That leaves Borski out in the cold.
This political maneuvering in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania has been matched by intrigue elsewhere in the state.
Most political insiders expect that the second seat to be eliminated will be from Democratic ranks in the Pittsburgh area. U.S. Rep. William J. Coyne has said he will not run again, making it easy for the legislature to eliminate his seat.
Beyond that, everything is up in the air.
Republican leaders think they have a good shot at erasing a third Democrat by reconfiguring boundary lines in a way that forces U.S. Reps. Tim Holden and Paul Kanjorski to fight over the same Democratic strongholds in central Pennsylvania.
But Perzel and another powerful Republican, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, are at odds over a risky proposal by Santorum to try for a fourth GOP victory - in Western Pennsylvania.
John Brabender, Santorum's political consultant, said it may be possible to carve out a district that sets up a strong Republican challenger to go against another of the Democratic incumbents. The Democrat often mentioned is U.S. Rep. Frank Mascara.
Perzel believes that the Santorum plan, also advanced by some state Senate Republicans, could backfire.
He prefers a plan to cement the hold of freshman Republican Rep. Melissa Hart on her U.S. House district north and east of Pittsburgh by concentrating more GOP voters in her district. Santorum and Perzel "have been communicating - very open, very friendly," Brabender said. "I think they will come up with a consensus."
This week marks the last legislative session of the year. With congressional primaries only months away, the time to settle redistricting is running out.
Perzel said he wanted a decision this week, but it could come after Jan. 1.
Seeking to head off the worst-case scenario for them, state Senate Democrats yesterday unveiled a congressional redistricting plan that eliminates the seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. William Coyne and another seat in the east.
Coyne's territory would be handed over to neighboring districts, with the more heavily Republican areas going to U.S Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Bradford Woods, and the more Democratic areas of Coyne's district -- including the entire city of Pittsburgh and much of the Mon Valley -- included in the district now held by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale.
The plan, released yesterday, seeks to provide an alternative to Republican attempts to redraw the state's congressional boundaries more to their benefit.
In the east, the Democrats propose to merge the suburban Philadelphia seats now held by Democrat Robert Borski and Republican James Greenwood.
Redistricting must be done every 10 years to reflect population shifts identified in the U.S. Census. The Democrats' proposal has bleak prospects because Republicans control the redistricting process.
Billed as a hearing on congressional redistricting, yesterday's session in the Allegheny County Courthouse Gold Room ended up more like a canonization.
Witness after witness, Republican and Democrat, extolled the record of U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, and implored state lawmakers to make sure that they remained his constituents under the new congressional map now being charted in the Legislature.
State Sen. Donald C. White, R-Indiana, described the veteran congressman as "a Pennsylvania treasure."
Christine Toretti, Pennsylvania's Republican national committeewoman and owner of an Indiana County drilling firm, crossed party lines to praise Murtha.
"Jack Murtha's meant jobs," she said. "Jack Murtha means water and sewer projects ... [he's] improved the quality of life and opened the door to new businesses."
The hearing was called by the joint House and Senate State Government committees. With redistricting of the Legislature out of the way, state lawmakers have turned their attention to the shape of the state's new congressional districts, a task complicated by the 2000 census, which dictated a loss of two seats for Pennsylvania.
Toretti, White and other politicians and business people from Indiana and Armstrong counties, now included in Murtha's 12th Congressional District, are concerned that the new map might split their counties, shifting many communities to the 5th District, represented by U.S. Rep. John Peterson.
James Marker, a Republican Somerset County commissioner, joined the chorus, urging that his county be allowed to remain in Murtha's jurisdiction. The pleas from senior Republicans to be represented by the conservative Democrat were testimony to the clout Murtha has amassed since his election to Congress in 1974, largely through his senior position on the powerful Appropriations Committee.
"I've never seen anything like that outpouring of support for Rep. Murtha," said state Sen. Charles D. Lemmond Jr., R-Luzerne, who chaired the session, the fourth the legislators have held around the state. A new congressional map is expected to be adopted in Harrisburg in the next several weeks.
Several other witnesses yesterday urged lawmakers to take advantage of the looming retirement of U.S. Rep. William Coyne, D-Oakland, to merge the city of Pittsburgh with a district including the eastern suburbs and Mon Valley communities in southeastern Allegheny County now represented by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale.
The Allegheny County witnesses who spoke yesterday were in general agreement in urging that the county be divided between that Pittsburgh-Mon Valley district and a second including the remaining suburbs surrounding the city.
Some senior Republicans, notably U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, have privately urged lawmakers to consider an alternative regional map that would carve out two potential GOP districts adjoining the city, one to the north and the other to the south, including part of Washington County.
Pennsylvania Republicans confront a happy dilemma as they redraw the map of congressional districts for the next decade.
With a free hand to shape the new districts, GOP leaders are debating just how far they can go in maximizing their share of the state's U.S. House delegation.
GOP strategists believe their advantage could climb from the current 11-10 to as high as 12-7 after next year's elections, which will be fought on political battlegrounds of their choice. Population losses in the 2000 census caused the state to forfeit two districts.
In the Pittsburgh region, the question turns on whether the Republican Party's best course is to shape one unassailable Republican fortress curled around the city or take a more ambitious, and more risky, path in creating two potential Republican districts north and south of the city.
The answer, which will emerge over the next several weeks, will shape the careers of politicians in both parties as well as help determine the partisan divide in Washington between now and 2012.
Among the most influential voices arguing for a bolder GOP approach to the southwestern Pennsylvania map are two leaders of the region's Republican resurgence over the past decade -- Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Bradford Woods.
After three terms representing a North Hills state Senate district with a Democratic majority, Hart won a surprisingly strong victory in another jurisdiction with a Democratic majority, the 4th Congressional District. That district stretches from Lawrence and Beaver counties through slices of Allegheny and Butler counties and into the northwestern portion of Westmoreland County.
In the current redistricting exercise, one of the GOP's top priorities is to protect Hart. One obvious way to do that would be to unite her North Hills base with Republican-leaning suburbs to the west and south of Pittsburgh.
That would result in a C-shaped district resembling the congressional district that embraced many suburbs before the last redistricting in 1991.
While adding those GOP-leaning communities, Hart could shed some of her most heavily Democratic constituents, in Beaver and Lawrence counties. Some Republicans think that would be the most prudent way of preserving the party's congressional chances in this part of the state.
But Hart, perhaps surprisingly, says she is happy to retain heavily Democratic Beaver County as part of a new 4th District. That's an area where Hart can appeal to many conservative Democrats on social issues but one where her conservative views on taxing and spending issues create the potential for political friction.
Hart said she was confident that her long-term re-election prospects could be sufficiently buttressed by annexing North Hills communities from her former state Senate district. Those communities are now part of the districts represented by Reps. Bill Coyne, D-Oakland, and Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale.
That would give her a new, Republican-rich swath of Allegheny County stretching from Sewickley in the west to Fox Chapel and O'Hara in the east.
For the region's overall political prospects, that proposed district also would be noteworthy for the Republican voters it does not include. By giving the 4th District a horizontal shape north of the city, fertile GOP communities from the airport through the South Hills could help create another Republican opportunity.
Combined with GOP-leaning areas of northern Washington County and southern Westmoreland, such a district probably would still have a Democratic registration edge. But the registration figures, like those in many areas of Western Pennsylvania, are belied by the area's actual voting performance.
Santorum and other statewide candidates, including Treasurer Barbara Hafer and Attorney General Mike Fisher, have carried the areas in that proposed district, and President Bush performed better than expected.
Several Republican names have been mentioned as potential candidates for that proposed district. But figures close to Santorum see state Sen. Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair as the most promising prospect for a race that would entail a challenge to veteran Washington County Democrat Frank Mascara of Charleroi.
Mascara's existing 20th District overlaps the proposed district. Its boundaries would start near Pittsburgh International Airport, extend across the South Hills and continue into southern Westmoreland County.
"I'm waiting to see what the maps look like," said Murphy, who will be in the middle of his four-year Senate term next year. "That's really all I can say for now. ... It is an interesting and intriguing opportunity. However, there's too many what-ifs out there. There's too many variables that stand in the way of further thinking at this point."
Chief among them is the possibility that the GOP map favored by Santorum and Hart won't survive the deliberations that will go on between now and the early weeks of December.
"It has a fair amount of energy but I don't know that I would bet on it happening," a senior Harrisburg Republican said of the plan to create two Republican congressional targets in the Pittsburgh region.
"There's another school of thought that southwestern Pennsylvania is still naturally Democratic, and while some [GOP] candidates have done well there -- and certainly Sen. Santorum and Rep. Hart exemplify that -- the better course is to consolidate, to get back to the old Heinz district."
The reference was to the configuration of the main suburban Pittsburgh district as it existed when it was represented by the late Sen. John Heinz during his time in the House. That's the same C-shape the district occupied when Santorum first captured it in an upset over incumbent Doug Walgren.
The concern among some Republicans is that the recent GOP momentum in Western Pennsylvania could be slowed by factors such as a persistent economic downturn.
In addition, two redistricting rounds ago, in 1981, the GOP's success in attracting so-called Reagan Democrats led to a redistricting map designed to consolidate GOP successes of that era.
But one after another of the GOP targets ended up going Democratic in the 1982 elections.
Democratic politicians don't have a voice in this debate but are no less interested in its outcome. The heavily Democratic city of Pittsburgh has the population of roughly one-half of a congressional district and is almost certain to be left intact in one district.
Its direction could dictate whether Doyle will face an intraparty battle in May from a Pittsburgh Democrat such as county Controller Dan Onorato or Register of Wills David Wecht.
Coyne's announced retirement created the opportunity to combine his Pittsburgh-based district with part of Doyle's adjoining 18th District.
Doyle would have significant advantages as an incumbent, but the potential new district is the target of other Democratic ambitions.
Wecht, who lost a race for state Superior Court this month, said he might consider a House bid but has yet to make up his mind. Onorato said his decision would be dictated by the new map.
If the new district draws heavily on communities Doyle currently represents in the Mon Valley and does not extend too far to the west of Pittsburgh, Doyle could end up with no opposition in the primary.
But a district that included relatively less of the Mon Valley and more of the Democratic voters in communities extending west along the Ohio River would mean an almost certain primary challenge for Doyle. A district with a western boundary not far beyond McKees Rocks and Kennedy would be good news for Doyle.
But a district with a center of gravity farther to the west, extending farther along the Ohio and including Robinson, might lure Onorato's ambitions from Grant Street to Washington.
"To me, that is a very strong district," Onorato said of the latter possibility. "I am ready to go, ready to shift gears, at a day's notice."
A joint state House and Senate committee yesterday kicked off a series of hearings on how congressional district boundaries should be redrawn to reflect the latest U.S. Census, but the sessions drew immediate criticism.
"This is a complete waste of time," Sen. Sean Logan, D-Monroeville, said of the hearings to elicit suggestions for a plan, which must be approved by the Legislature. "This is putting the cart before the horse."
Republicans control the state House and Senate and have the votes to pass a bill that would draw the lines pretty much any way they want, which Democrats believe will be in a manner that helps future Republican candidates and hurts incumbent Democratic congressmen.
The state will lose two congressional seats because of the census. Other states grew faster than Pennsylvania over the past decade, so those two seats will be shifted to another state, and Pennsylvania's delegation will shrink from 21 to 19 lawmakers.
One will most likely be the seat held by retiring Rep. William Coyne, D-Oakland. The other likely will be one in the Philadelphia area.
Democrats fear, however, that the Republicans will redraw the remaining 19 districts in ways that pack Republican voters into the current Democrat-held congressional seats, thus giving Republican candidates better shots at unseating Democrats.
It's a twist to voting: Instead of voters choosing lawmakers, lawmakers are choosing voters.
"I expect this to be driven purely by politics," said state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Haverford, who promised to lobby Republicans to keep intact the congressional seat in his Philadelphia area, now held by Joseph Hoeffel, D-Montgomery County.
The state's plan for redistricting is expected to begin making its way through the General Assembly next month in hopes of being adopted by the time lawmakers break for the holidays Dec. 18, said Stephen C. MacNett, the top lawyer for Senate Republicans.
MacNett, general counsel for the Senate Republicans, said Coyne's seat will be eliminated, and most likely a Democrat-held seat in Philadelphia area. And he agreed that Republicans will be looking to further the prospects of Republican candidates, to the detriment of Democratic incumbents.
He and his staff already have drawn maps with "probably a couple hundred variations," but no one map has been settled on, he said.
Republicans hold a 105-98 advantage in the House and a 28-22 majority in the Senate.
"The perfect map has yet to be drawn up," state Sen. Charles Lemmond, R-Dallas, said yesterday in opening the first of three hearings on the subject. "It's inescapable, and we recognize it -- that this is a political process. But we are aware of the interests out there. "
Lemmond promised that a "responsible" map will be drawn that will be "acceptable" to the majority of state lawmakers, and said whatever is passed will withstand the inevitable court challenge.
One Republican congressman testified yesterday that his seat should not be drastically changed, and several Democratic lawmakers made pitches to keep Democrat-held seats intact.
Another hearing will be held in Pittsburgh, in the Allegheny County Courthouse, next Wednesday.
A panel finalized new state House and Senate districts yesterday, making minor changes that did nothing to mollify critics of the plan.
The five-member state Legislative Reapportionment Commission, made up of top lawmakers in both chambers and headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Montemuro Jr., adopted the plan. It does not go before the Legislature for a vote but can be challenged in court, which is expected.
The once-a-decade redistricting is mandated to reflect population shifts identified in the U.S. Census.
The big winners in redistricting were House Republicans. Three Democratic-held seats in the west were shifted to more Republican-dominated areas in central and northeast Pennsylvania.
Among the losers were Reps. David Mayernik, D-Ross, and Ralph Kaiser, D-Brentwood, whose districts were moved.
Since the preliminary plan was approved in September, changes were made to 15 of the 50 Senate and 55 of the 203 House districts, most with the approval of affected incumbents. In Western Pennsylvania, configurations were changed in five of 13 Senate districts and 19 of 38 House districts.
Most of the changes were at the request of lawmakers who wanted to swap territory. The swaps rippled throughout the area, forcing lines to be redrawn so that each district has nearly equal population.
Some communities were split into two legislative districts or shifted entirely into a nearby district.
An attempt was made in the final plan to appease Ross officials, who complained that the original proposal splintered the township among five House districts.
The final plan has Ross being served by four House members: Frank Pistella, D-Bloomfield; Susan Laughlin, D-Conway; Jeff Habay, R-Shaler; and Don Walko, D-North Side.
Part of southern Ross that had been earmarked to go into Rep. Michael Diven's district was instead added to Walko's.
Ross and the North Hills School District have authorized appeals to the state Supreme Court within a few weeks, said township Solicitor Don Gates.
Gates said his research showed that no first-class township -- the designation given to roughly 90 Pennsylvania townships, mostly in metropolitan areas -- has ever been divided into four House districts.
"Four still doesn't cut it," agreed Ross Commissioner Dan DeMarco. "In my opinion, it's unconstitutional. It doesn't address the problem. I don't see where Ross Township is going to get the attention it needs to get" if served by four representatives.
Ross was diced up because it was the heart of a legislative district, long held by Mayernik, that was moved across the state to Bucks County -- one of the three House seats from Western Pennsylvania that were moved.
The other relocated seats were held by Kaiser and retiring Rep. Leo Trich, D-North Franklin.
Their territory was divided among neighboring lawmakers.
Mayernik and Kaiser were targeted by House Democratic leaders because they had a history of voting with Republicans on some issues.
In the final plan, Kaiser's home is in the district of Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Carrick. Kaiser yesterday said he wouldn't run for re-election and instead is considering a bid for lieutenant governor next year.
Mayernik said he will stay in politics but is unsure in what capacity.
"It's just a difficult pill to swallow," he said. "It's not the voters and the people I work for throwing me out of office, it's the internal politics."
House Majority Leader John M. Perzel, R-Philadelphia, predicted the GOP majority would remain at 105-98 or increase as a result of redistricting.
"I believe this gives us control for the next 10 years," he said. "I'm very, very happy. I'm ecstatic."
House and Senate Democratic leaders said they, too, were satisfied with the final plan.
"I'm very confident this will be accepted in the Supreme Court and will be in place for the next election," said House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, one of the redistricting panel members. "We're very satisfied."
Lawmakers said the plan was almost certain to draw legal challenges from interest groups, that traditionally contest reapportionment proposals to the state Supreme Court.
"I don't expect any more litigation on this than we [had] in 1991, 1981 or 1971," said DeWeese, who said the panel's unanimous vote for the plan might make such challenges more difficult.
Challenges must be filed within 30 days. The entire House and half the Senate is up for re-election next year.
In the Senate, Democrats held off an attempt by Republicans to move the seat held by state Sen. Leonard Bodack, D-Lawrenceville, to Monroe County in the eastern part of the state, where there are more Republicans.
Although Bodack's district remained in Western Pennsylvania, it was substantially changed, and now stretches from Pittsburgh northeast into southern Armstrong County and parts of Westmoreland County.
In the final plan, he picked up 10 voting precincts in the city and gained Oakmont, Brackenridge, Oklahoma and East Vandergrift, swapped by agreement with the senators of neighboring districts, said Abe Amoros, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Robert Mellow.
After tinkering with earlier versions of the maps, the state reapportionment commission yesterday gave final approval to a plan dividing Pennsylvania into new legislative districts.
The plan moves four House seats from areas that are losing population to growing sections of Bucks, Lancaster, York and Monroe Counties. To make room for the new districts, three seats will be eliminated in and around Pittsburgh, and the fourth will be erased in Northeast Philadelphia.
Members of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission unanimously approved the plan, which makes 55 changes to the House districts and 15 changes to the Senate districts which were laid out Sept. 25 in preliminary maps. The changes were described as minor adjustments in district boundaries.
For the last five weeks, the reapportionment commission considered testimony and written appeals from interest groups upset with the preliminary maps.
"These changes do not represent all of what the objectors asked for," said retired Supreme Court Justice Frank J. Montemuro, chairman of the commission. "Not everyone is going to be happy with the plan. This is a political process, designed as such by the state constitution."
The reapportionment commission - a bipartisan panel made up of the four party leaders in the legislature and an impartial chairman - convenes each decade to revise the map of the state's 203 House and 50 Senate districts to reflect population trends in the census.
Now, the plan can be contested only before the state Supreme Court. Objections must be filed with the court by Dec. 19.
In the House, newly created districts include the 29th District in central Bucks County, the 41st District west of Lancaster, the 47th District in northern York County and the 176th District, covering central and northwestern Monroe County.
The changes to House districts approved yesterday by the commission were minor adjustments to clean up municipalities that had been split in the preliminary plan, and swaps of precincts among House members, said Democratic aide Scott Casper.
On the Senate side, municipalities and precincts were shuffled to reduce the reach of Montgomery County Republican Sen. Edwin G. Holl's 24th district into the Lehigh Valley, though it will still take in the city of Easton. The plan to push Holl's district north and east has been controversial.
The 17th Senate District's boundaries were adjusted to drop Collegeville, Lower Providence and West Norriton into the nearby 44th Senate District. East Norriton and Norristown would be brought into the 17th, which is in Montgomery and Delaware Counties.
The commission also shuffled wards and voting districts between the Fifth District of Sen. Michael Stack (D., Phila.) and the Second District of Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione (D., Phila.)
Despite the protests of residents, the commission still erased most of Manor Township from the 100th House District, where angry neighbors say Rep. John Barley (R., Lancaster) betrayed them in a $15.7 million landfill deal. Barley is the appropriations chairman, and the neighbors contended legislative leaders were protecting him.
"I'm ecstatic," House Majority Leader John M. Perzel (R., Phila.) said of the reapportionment plan. "All of the new districts trend Republican."
Said House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese (D., Greene): "There are no accomplished facts in this process. Notwithstanding the challenge, anybody could still win these districts."
The Democratic members of Allegheny County Council are contemplating using taxpayer dollars to pay for a Washington, D.C., attorney who is defending them in a lawsuit challenging the recently approved reapportionment of council districts.
The Democrats have hired Edward Still, a redistricting specialist from the Washington firm of Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky, to represent them in a lawsuit filed last month in federal court by the Republican Committee of Allegheny County.
Council's Democratic majority approved new district boundaries in a surprise vote Aug. 23, creating a map that will put Republicans at a disadvantage in elections for the next 10 years and prompting the GOP to sue.
Councilman Wayne Fontana, who spearheaded the reapportionment, said the Democrats have yet to decide how to pay Still's fees but have not ruled out using county government money.
"We didn't bring the lawsuit. We have a right to be defended the best way we can," said Fontana, D-Brookline. "If there's any cost to the county, I suggest you talk to the Republican [county] committee, which brought the lawsuit."
This year's county budget allocates $84,000 for the council to spend on legal services. Much, if not all, of that money is going to John F. Cambest, a lawyer hired in May to advise the council in legal matters.
Still, contacted yesterday at his Washington office, declined to disclose how much he is charging. He said he has been working on the case for about two weeks.
The Republicans' county committee is raising private money to pay its legal fees in the ongoing lawsuit, said Councilman Ron Francis, R-Ben Avon.
However, the Democrats are entitled to use taxpayer dollars because the council members were sued in their capacity as public officials, said state Sen. Leonard Bodack, chairman of the county's Democratic Party.
Any proposal to use county money to pay for outside legal services must go before the county's five-member Professional Services Review Committee. The council has yet to submit such a proposal to the committee, which is made up of Fontana, Council President John DeFazio, county Chief Executive Jim Roddey, County Manager Bob Webb and a fifth member nominated by Roddey and confirmed by the council.
Councilman Tom Shumaker, R-Pine, said the Democrats shouldn't use taxpayer dollars to defend themselves.
"Legally, I assume they have the right to do it. From a policy standpoint, I think it's very bad policy," he said. "As a general proposition, public funds shouldn't be used for political battles."
"This is a lawsuit between the Democrats and the Republicans," Shumaker added.
The widely anticipated redrawing of Pennsylvania's House map gets under way this week when Republicans, who run the show in Harrisburg, hold a series of field hearings on redistricting.
Redistricting insiders said Republicans in Harrisburg are likely to unveil a preliminary House map by early December. Rumors flew last week about where Republicans were headed as they seek to eliminate two seats from the 21-seat House delegation. Several sources said GOP leaders were likely to draw a swing district for Reps. Joseph Hoeffel (D) and Bob Borski (D) that features part of Hoeffel's Montgomery County base and part of Borski's Philadelphia base.
Hoeffel would be favored in this district, but his county would be split between newly-drawn districts for Reps. Curt Weldon (R) and either Reps. Chaka Fattah (D) or Bob Brady (D). GOPers also also seeking to draw an open seat in the area for state Sen. Jim Gerlach (R).
Borski backers are urging legislators to reconsider, arguing that Borski is a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and that Republicans are ultimately unlikely to oust Hoeffel. Last week Montgomery County Democrats drove to Harrisburg to deliver petitions with 13,000 signatures urging legislators to preserve the basic outlines of Hoeffel's district - an event staged, he noted, "with appropriate press attention."
Hoeffel noted the petition drive was spearheaded by Montgomery County Democrats, not him. "The whole point is that it's not about saving a seat for Joe Hoeffel. It's about saving a seat for Montgomery County," he said Thursday.
The lines for new state House and Senate seats were finalized today with minor changes from a controversial plan that triggered outrage when it was released in September.
Fifteen changes were made to Senate districts from the preliminary plan and 55 were made to House districts, at least a third of them in western Pennsylvania. But almost none were made without the approval of the incumbent lawmakers.
In most cases, it was the individual lawmakers who worked out which communities they wanted to swap, and the panel of the top lawmakers in both chambers -- headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Montemuro Jr. -- approved them today.
The big winners in this once-a-decade redistricting, mandated to reflect population shifts identified in the U.S. Census, were the House Republicans.
Three Democratic-held seats in the west were shifted to more Republican-dominated areas in central and northeast Pennsylvania.
House Majority Leader John M. Perzel, R-Philadelphia, was gleeful, predicting his majority will stay at 105-98 or even grow larger.
"I believe this gives us control for the next 10 years," he beamed. "I'm very, very happy. I'm ecstatic."
The biggest losers were two Democratic representatives from the Pittsburgh area.
State Rep. Dave Mayernik, D-Ross, found his district gutted and moved across the state and the area he represented spread out among seven neighboring districts. The maneuver, done at the behest of his party's leaders in an act of political vengeance, left him without a power base and his career in the House effectively ended.
And state Rep. Ralph Kaiser, D-Brentwood, found his district was cut up and passed around to neighboring districts, leaving him the option of retiring from the House or challenging colleague Harry Readshaw, D-Carrick.
"This is what you expected," said Mayernik, who seemed resigned to his fate, yet chipper. "It's just a difficult pill to swallow. It's not the voters and the people I work for throwing me out of office, it's the internal politics."
A reapportionment plan described by local officials as ludicrous, ridiculous, pathetic and disgusting - and was even said to resemble a "mutated starfish" - was approved today by a 5-0 vote in Harrisburg.
The stateís five-member reapportionment commission severed Easton and its surrounding municipalities from the 18th Senatorial District.
The commission includes state Sens. David Brightbill, Robert Mellow, William DeWeese and John Perzel and Senior Judge Frank Montemuro Jr.
Before the vote, Montemuro said: "Not everybody will be happy with the plan, and thatís to be expected."
After the vote, he referred questions to commission Executive Director Charles OíConnor.
OíConnor said the commission couldnít come to a consensus on how to create another Senate seat. As a result, it opted to split existing districts. Monroe County is represented by six state senators.
"The commission did the best they could," OíConnor said. "Thatís all I can say."
Under the redistricting plan unveiled in September, the city of Easton; West Easton, Glendon, Tatamy and Wilson boroughs; and Williams, Palmer and Forks townships are splintered from state Sen. Lisa Boscolaís district.
The eight municipalities become part of Republican Edwin G. Holl's 24th District.
Boscola, D-Northampton/Monroe, said last week that she did not know if the plan was revised in any way. It wasnít.
The change raised the ire of many local officials who could not understand how a five-member commission could make its decision without input from state lawmakers.
"I can't even imagine how they came up with this," Forks Supervisors Chairman David Hoff said.
"How much attention are we going to get?" Easton Mayor Thomas Goldsmith said.
"I'm flabbergasted by the decision," West Easton Mayor Gerald W. Gross said.
During the 30-day public comment period, Easton officials and state Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton, drafted and submitted alternative redistricting plans.
Northampton County Executive Glenn Reibman, a Democrat, and Lehigh County Executive Jane Ervin, a Republican, presented a unified front and testified before the commission, opposing the plan.
According to state officials, Lehigh Valley residents filed about 265 objections to the new districts.
"Why you chose to place us within a district whose representative lives over 50 miles away and in a vastly different community, no one can guess," wrote Wilson Borough resident Peter Lundy. "The purely political reasons for this action will undoubtedly remain secret."
Forks Township resident Lilly Gioia wrote to the commission to say she was "more than distressed to see the bizarre configuration" that is proposed.
"What I find most upsetting is lumping Forks, Easton and other contiguous communities into a district that appears to be represented by Pennsylvaniaís version of Strom Thurmond," Gioia wrote.
Holl is 85.
Boscola will lose Easton; West Easton, Glendon, Wilson, Tatamy and Wind Gap boroughs; and Williams, Palmer, Forks, Bushkill and Moore townships in Northampton County; and Eldred, Hamilton, Polk, Ross and Smithfield townships in Monroe County.
She gains Northampton and North Catasauqua boroughs in Northampton County; West Bethlehem; Coplay, Catasauqua and Fountain Hill boroughs; Whitehall and Hanover townships in Lehigh County; and Stroud Township in Monroe County.
Holl - who is based in Lansdale in Montgomery County - inherits a senatorial district that spans four counties.
Holl now represents Durham, East Rockhill, Milford, Nockamixon, Richland and Springfield townships; and Quakertown, Richlandtown, Riegelsville and Trumbauersville boroughs in Bucks County.
In Lehigh County, Holl inherits Lower Macungie, Upper Macungie, Lower Milford, Upper Milford and Weisenberg townships; and Alburtis and Macungie boroughs. His previous 28 municipalities were contained in Montgomery County.
Holl called his own district "the ugliest district in the state."
"It's ludicrous," Holl said in September. "You need a helicopter to get from one side of the district to the other."
State Sen. Charles Dent, R-Northampton/Lehigh, was also affected, swapping municipalities in Northampton and Lehigh counties and inheriting three townships in Monroe County.
Area businessman Charles Snelling said in October that the Lehigh Valley Coalition for Fair Reapportionment would consider pursuing a lawsuit against the commission if a more sensible plan was not drawn.
The last time Senate and House reapportionment plans were approved, 26 lawsuits were filed, Boscola said. Each suit was dismissed, but Boscola called the latest plan "so egregious" that it may stand a chance.
"I think the Lehigh Valley has a great opportunity here," she said. "Easton is the county seat and has never been out of the 18th District. If there is a compelling reason, maybe it would carry in this instance."
The saga involving County Council's botched redistricting exercise, which has now spawned a federal lawsuit, is an unfortunate example of how our new form of county government was not supposed to operate.
At every stage, both Democrats and Republicans attempted to outsmart, outmaneuver and agitate each other. In the process, unfortunately, they forgot that they were supposed to serve not their own political interests, but the citizens of Allegheny County.
The 13 County Council districts were redrawn with zero public input, an inexcusable omission in modern local government.
As the mayor of Forest Hills, one of many municipalities that was short-changed in the redistricting process, I have seen my borough moved from the East End (where we have worked closely with neighboring communities for nearly a hundred years) to an overwhelmingly city-based district where we will have little or no influence.
There have been many half-hearted explanations offered by County Council for this midnight reapportionment maneuver: "We need more metropolitanism," "we had no choice because the Republicans in Harrisburg were planning to hijack the process," etc. None of these rationalizations, however, can justify excluding the public's voice in one of the most important decisions that will affect our right to vote for the next decade.
In 1991, I served as executive director of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission. Across the nation, I witnessed a strong trend in favor of increased public input at every stage of the reapportionment process. Yet in Allegheny County, we have returned to the Dark Ages of back-room politics.
Can this be the same Allegheny County that bragged of modernizing itself with a new system of government? At the time we ratified the home rule charter in May 1998, we were promised that municipalities would have more, not less, say in county government.
Both parties must share the blame for forsaking this promise.
Misstep No. 1: In late 1998, when the County Council seats were first drawn, the Republicans commandeered the Apportionment Commission. The resulting map stretched districts to give Republicans more influence than their population figures in Allegheny County would justify.
Misstep No. 2: This past summer, County Chief Executive Jim Roddey, while a first-rate politician, accepted some bad advice. He sought to push a redistricting bill through the state Legislature which would effectively strip power from the Democratic County Council to redraw the districts, as they are empowered to do under the current county code. The plan backfired. Democrats went on the warpath.
Misstep No. 3: In order to thwart Roddey, Democrats on council (coached by legislators in Harrisburg) drew up their own map in the dark of night, with no public input, and rammed it through.
Republicans have now cried "foul!" and challenged the redistricting in federal court in conjunction with the League of Women Voters. Democrats on County Council have dug in, proclaiming in essence: "It may not be pretty, but we think we'll win the lawsuit. Who cares how we did it?"
And towns like Forest Hills, which simply wanted a chance to make sensible adjustments to the map that all communities impacted agreed would be beneficial, have been told to butt out.
Shame on officials of both political parties, for forgetting whom they took their oath of office to serve.
If members of County Council have the fortitude to stand up to their respective political parties, the problem could be corrected.
First, County Council should establish a short "comment" period (perhaps, 14 days) in which citizens and municipalities can voice their objections concerning the current County Council map, and put them in writing. Major revisions to the "final" map may be problematic. But minor fine-tuning and tweaking around the edges is the norm in modern redistricting. Second, proposed adjustments that are sensible, and do not create undue complications, should be adopted by County Council in the form of a single (aggregated) amendment to the existing map.
Third, in order to avoid creating terrible precedent, council should adopt an amendment to Section 301.03(B) of the administrative code. In future redistricting exercises, the code should require a 90-day period for public hearings and input after the preliminary map is drawn. This is how the state legislative reapportionment is handled. It is how responsible redistrictings throughout the nation are conducted.
In the case of Forest Hills, we have proposed a simple amendment by which our borough, along with Churchill and Chalfant, would be moved into District 8. This is the district where we share police and fire services; where we work together on the Turtle Creek Valley COG; where we make up the still-formative Woodland Hills School District; and where our borough has worked diligently to establish itself as a leader among its fellow communities. Munhall and Whitaker would move from District 8 back across the river to District 11, where they share communities of interest with Homestead and the waterfront district. (The mayors of those two towns favor such a switch.) Finally, a piece of the city would be returned to District 10, making the population swaps roughly equal.
There are thousands of ways to draw any redistricting map. Forest Hills does not claim to know the only acceptable configuration. But we do know that the current map, which was built without the benefit of public input, is unacceptable by design.
The entire spirit of our home rule charter is one that places a high premium on public participation and openness. The process employed in this case was an insult to the citizens of Allegheny County.
As our new form of county government continues to mature, our elected representatives ought to learn that they must live up to the pledge that we made, as a community, when we instituted our home rule charter.
The voice of our citizens, and of the 130 municipalities that make up this unique piece of geography called Allegheny County, must always come first. Even when it requires sacrificing political agendas.
Ken Gormley, a professor at Duquesne University School of Law, is mayor of Forest Hills.
Whitehall Mayor Jim Nowalk contends that proposed elimination of the 41st Legislative District would have "a devastating impact."
His assessment is included in a letter to the state's 2001 Legislative Reapportionment Commission in which borough officials expressed their unhappiness with the plan to split Whitehall representation among three representatives instead of two.
The letter also lays groundwork for a possible legal challenge to the plan that would eliminate the 41st District, represented by state Rep .Ralph Kaiser, D-Brentwood.
It would be merged into the 36th District represented by state Rep. Harry Readshaw, D. Carrick; the 22nd District represented by state Rep. Michael Diven, D-Beechview, and the 38th District of state Rep. Ken Ruffing, D-West Mifflin.
Nowalk urges in his letter that the reapportionment commission "reconsider your preliminary plan in favor of one which preserves the integrity of our community and enables our municipality to be fairly and adequately represented in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives."
Whitehall officials said they have enjoyed a good working relationship with both Kaiser and Readshaw and that the proposed change would be detrimental. They expressed fear that borough residents' needs would be jeopardized and worried that future grant funding could be compromised by two representatives unfamiliar with the borough.
They said that besides creating confusion for many residents, the redistricting would impose a hardship on many used to visiting Kaiser's Caste Village office. The change would require some residents to travel about eight miles to the nearest legislative office.
Nowalk blamed the reapportionment plan on political machinations. "There's just no good reason for it," he said Friday in an interview.
He said in his letter that, according to the state's constitution, "Unless absolutely necessary, no borough shall be divided in forming a representative district."
He contended that the Legislative Reapportionment Committee has "punished" the borough and "robbed our community of a popular state representative with 13 years' seniority who has served his legislative district very well."
Although Whitehall is seeking support from five communities affected by this redistricting, Nowalk insisted the borough "will go it alone" if necessary.
Castle Shannon council voted last week to fight the reapportionment. Whitehall borough Manager Jim Leventry said Friday that Brentwood has declined to participate and that there has been no official word from Baldwin Borough, Bethel Park and South Park.
Following a public comment period that ended last week, the Reapportionment Committee has 30 days to adopt a final plan. Leventry said any legal challenge must be filed and heard before Dec. 25.
Since he was a young boy, state Rep. David Mayernik was sure of the three things he wanted to be when he grew up -- an FBI agent, an lawyer, and an elected official.
For Mayernik, knowing what you want and getting it seem to be much the same thing.
Mayernik earned his law degree in 1993. A Democrat, he has represented the 29th District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for 10 terms. And although he has never been an FBI agent, he was an Allegheny County deputy sheriff for eight years, serving on the fugitive squad and the homicide task force.
Now Mayernik, 49, is in danger of losing his role as an elected official. In a move Mayernik has said was calculated to terminate his political career, House leaders on the reapportionment committee last month diced his constituency into several other districts throughout the North Hills and West suburbs, leaving Mayernik with little chance of re-election.
Though he jokes about opening a scuba shop in the Bahamas, Mayernik admitted he doesn't have an answer yet for what he'll do if his political career ends. His roots in the 29th District stretch back his entire life, and he knows the communities he represents intimately. To Mayernik, the thought of no longer doing so is painful both professionally and personally.
"I saw a chance to make a difference in the community. I grew up here. I lived here. I interacted with all the people," he said.
The younger of two sons, Mayernik lived in West View for the first 40 years of his life. He attended St. Athanasius grade school and played hockey and football for North Hills High School.
At the age of 21, he became the youngest West View councilman ever. As a young man, he returned to St. Athanasius to coach football. When he married his wife, Chris, the couple moved to neighboring Ross.
His mother, Lil, who still lives in the house where Mayernik grew up, was his earliest inspiration. A Democratic committeewoman for 36 years, she had her son out pounding the pavement and passing out literature from the time he was a boy. Mayernik has worked the polls in every election since he was 13 years old.
"We were always active in the community," he said.
Much of Mayernik's success can be chalked up to old-fashioned hustle. What he terms "nervous energy" others would probably call insomnia. Whatever it is, Mayernik clearly has more stamina than most.
When he was running for his first term in the Legislature, Mayernik ran the steps of the North Hills football stadium to prep his legs for the task of knocking on 3,300 doors. He lost 30 pounds in the process.
He earned his law degree while serving in the House by attending part-time evening classes at Widener University's Harrisburg campus. On weeks when the Legislature was not in session, he commuted from the North Hills to class.
"I could never do one thing at a time. I always had to be multitask, high-energy. But that's what puts together the network pieces," Mayernik said.
Mayernik has gotten himself in trouble with House Democratic leaders for sometimes refusing to toe the party line.
In 1991, he voted against a nearly $3 billion tax increase backed by Democratic leaders. In 1993, he pushed for changes in the House's internal operating rules that he says would have given rank and file legislators more input in the legislative process.
He also raised the ire of party leaders when he supported Home Rule in Allegheny County, sought minimum hiring standards for the Allegheny County sheriff's office, backed Gov. Tom Ridge's workers' compensation reform and supported privatizing state liquor stores.
Mayernik is hardly one to be intimidated. During his time on the fugitive squad, he assisted in the capture of 19 escaped convicts and 120 felons. Even his personal pursuits -- motorcycles, skydiving and skiing -- have an edge.
Despite the redistricting, he refuses to back down now, either. Mayernik said he wouldn't change a single vote or take back a single comment. "I'm sent to Harrisburg to represent 60,000 people and do the right thing, not worry about what the results will be for Dave Mayernik as an individual," he said. "I was sent there to do a job, not to be a puppet."
Party leaders may resent him, but Mayernik has earned the respect of many of his constituents. In part, that is because he is so successful at finding grant money for a wide range of projects like parks, community centers and summer concert series.
"He has a way of bringing money back to the community, said Neville Secretary Denise Moore, who noted that Mayernik does not have a large voting base in her township. "He works hard at it. He's been here at meetings at 7 a.m. and he's been here at midnight for some things."
Jack Connors, an Avonworth school board member and organizer of a group called Citizens to Save the 29th District, worked with Mayernik to get funding for a new field house at the district's stadium.
"He didn't just find the money. He committed himself to every detail. ... He was actually down on his hands and knees measuring where the lockers would be," said Connors. "Dave Mayernik to me is an incredibly unique individual in terms of his attention to detail."
As for rescuing his political career, Mayernik vowed, "It's not over." However, he has already ruled out at least one option.
"I'm not switching parties. ... I just don't think it's proper at this time. I'd rather fight than switch," he said.
He could move and run in another district, but he'd have to do it before Nov. 4. Even so, the reapportionment committee would have until Nov. 20 to redraw district boundaries. Mayernik said he has no doubt leaders would redraw the lines and slice him out again.
Mayernik and others are working on an alternate reapportionment map that keeps what he calls "communities of interest" together. He plans to submit it to the reapportionment committee to testify that there are other ways to draw the lines.
Whether his political career is over or not remains to be seen, but Mayernik's supporters believe he is talented enough to move on to other successes.
"No one need worry about whether Dave will be employed or not," said Connors.
Legislative districts have been created in a process that severed neighborhoods and "flagrantly disregarded" the growth of Philadelphia's Latino population, community advocates said yesterday.
Latino leaders, along with City Councilman Angel Ortiz, told members of the state Legislative Reapportionment Commission that the redistricting plan is discriminatory and violates federal law. They said they are prepared to file a lawsuit over it.
"We will go to all lengths necessary to ensure that the right of Latino voters in Philadelphia to cast ballots and elect representatives of choice is respected," said Sara Rios, director of litigation for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, based in New York.
The state commission - made up of the Republican and Democratic floor leaders and chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Frank J. Montemuro - is charged with realigning the 203 state House districts and 50 Senate districts to reflect population changes in the past decade. By law, the commission must announce the final map by Oct. 25.
In the proposed Philadelphia map, some heavily Latino precincts in the Northeast's 179th District were shifted south to the 180th District, the state's lone majority-Latino district, represented by Rep. Angel Cruz (D., Phila.).
At the same time, some precincts in the 180th District were moved farther south to the 181st District, which is represented by Rep. Curtis Thomas (D., Phila), an African American.
"We want two compact districts," said Victor Vazquez, a spokesman for the Latino Voting Rights Committee of Pennsylvania.
"There are population shifts; we understand that. But there are some basic rules: You do not divide wards unless absolutely necessary," he said.
Latino advocates said the changes are a clear example of "cracking and packing" - splitting a district with a growing Latino population and expanding an existing Latino district.
Rep. Mark Cohen, a Democrat who led the redistricting effort in the city, defended the boundaries, saying they were drawn on the basis of racially neutral criteria, as specified by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Fourteen of the 26 House districts in Philadelphia in which the population is at least two-thirds African American or Latino "lost 72,000 people who moved to other sections of the city," Cohen said. "We had to see that each incumbent would have a seat. In order to achieve that, those districts had to be expanded."
Ortiz, who sued the reapportionment commission over alleged unfair practices in 1981 - resulting in the creation of the 180th Legislative District - said the current plan demonstrates that gerrymandering is still acceptable.
"Despite the growth of the Latinos, we might once again be sacrificial lambs in the struggle for power between the political parties," he said.
Raymond Alvarez, of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, called the plan racist. "It concentrates white control and violates the spirit, if not the law, of the [federal] Voting Rights Act."
On Thursday, Thomas told the reapportionment panel that Philadelphia's minorities are underrepresented and that there should be three more predominantly black districts and one more mostly Hispanic district.
Amy Worden's e-mail address is [email protected]
The constituents of Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 29 have already started writing letters to Harrisburg and plan to visit there tomorrow.
They're collecting money for an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
They've even constructed their own Web site.
All because they want to retain their district, which they believe is threatened with dissolution by partisan politics.
The Save the 29th District Committee, organized by Avonworth school board member Jack Connors of Ohio Township, is orchestrating a massive letter-writing campaign and encouraging an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Under a tentative reapportionment plan approved Sept. 25, the 29th District, one of three in Western Pennsylvania to be eliminated as a result of the 2000 Census, will be parceled out to seven other House districts.
That will likely cost state Rep. Dave Mayernik, D-Ross, his seat in 2002, as he would have to run against Rep. Susan Laughlin, D-Conway, in next year's primary. Constituents believe Democratic Party leadership is punishing Mayernik, as well as Rep. Ralph Kaiser, a Brentwood Democrat whose district is also being eliminated, for consistently voting against positions held by party leadership.
"I don't do what I'm told," Mayernik said. "I do what's right for the people of the area."
Furthermore, Ross, which by itself will be split among five House districts, is talking about filing an appeal with the state Supreme Court against the reapportionment committee, which consists of two House Republicans, two House Democrats and Supreme Court Senior Justice Frank J. Montemuro Jr., to keep the district intact.
Township officials believe the map violates the state constitution because it unnecessarily places the municipality in different districts. DeMarco said Ross also may file suit in federal court on the grounds of unequal representation.
Otherwise, "We will lose support of funding and legislation," said Ross Commissioner Dan DeMarco, a member of the national Democratic Leadership Council who said that Mayernik secured state funding for its new community center. "I don't know if [other House members] can guarantee us anything -- would Ross be adequately represented?"
Other municipalities and the Avonworth, Northgate and North Hills school districts are expected to join in the appeal to the state Supreme Court, which Connors said would cost $100,000. The campaign has a web site, www.savethe29th.com.
The 29th District also consists of Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, Emsworth, Glenfield, Haysville, Neville Island and West View, most of which have either passed resolutions keeping the district together or are considering doing so.
Connors said he would solicit the support of state Attorney General Mike Fisher, state Treasurer Barbara Hafer and Allegheny County Chief Executive Jim Roddey, all Republicans whom House district residents supported in their respective campaigns.
"Hopefully, they'll stand up and be counted here," Connors said.
Due to a required 30-day comment period, which would expire Oct. 25, the reapportionment committee has scheduled hearings tomorrow and Friday in Harrisburg, Mayernik said. "Save the 29th" has scheduled for tomorrow a bus trip to the state capital to lobby for changes. A hearing in front of the state Supreme Court would need to take place by Thanksgiving.
Connors would like a new map drawn as a result, and "Hopefully, that includes Dave as a solution," Connors said.
Mayernik said he plans to run for office again, but as a Democrat.
"I'm keeping my options open, running for a House seat or seeking another elective office," he said. However, quelling speculation, "I have no intention of switching parties."
There's been plenty of activity on the part of North Hills residents since the map was publicized.
Connie Rankin, publisher of The Citizen, a Bellevue-based newspaper which also covers Avalon, Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, Emsworth, Kilbuck and Ohio Township, said her paper is serving as a clearinghouse for people and organizations interested in participating in the campaign to keep the district together.
The Citizen is involved "only because we have contact with all seven municipalities," Rankin said. "We want to act at a cohesive group. People want to do something."
Rankin believes that the North Boroughs should stick together in one district. "Otherwise, none of us will have a voice in state government," Rankin said.
At a town meeting Oct. 3 at the Mayernik Center at Avonworth Community Park, so crowded Kilbuck police had to direct traffic on Camp Horne Road, Mayernik complained to the nearly 300 people who attended, "They've targeted our community for extinction."
At the meeting, Mayernik presented maps detailing the new districts and mentioning the names of people who would represent voters in their respective districts. Only one, Jeff Habay, R-Shaler, was located in the North Hills.
A fuming Connors, who spoke later, recited an excerpt from the state Constitution which reads, "Unless absolutely necessary, no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district."
The committee, which took a collection at that meeting, has so far raised about $10,000. Half of that came from Avalon, which presented a check for $5,000.
The turnout on Oct. 3 left him "surprised, embarrassed by those actions -- overwhelmed" that people thought so highly of him, Mayernik said.
And they do.
"You only get a person like that once in a lifetime," said Ross Commissioner Jim Atzert.
Added Bruce Tindle, vice president of Avalon council, "Nobody [messes with] our boy."
About 70 Ross residents packed the Ross commissioners meeting Oct. 8, lining the walls of the board's chambers and standing in the hall for more than an hour to listen or voice their thoughts. Several of the residents are members of township fire departments who came to say that already scarce funding will be even tougher to come by under the new redistricting plan.
Board chairman Pete Ferraro was blunt in his criticism of the plan. "Basically what's happening with Ross is we're being disenfranchised," he said.
Keating Fire Co. member Jean Claude Carlucci said, "Splaying the district into five will make our voices smaller, and we will not be heard."
Several residents said they would support the board for as long as it takes to fight the redistricting plan. Yvonne Brandon, representing residents of North Hills Estates, said Ross residents want to pursue the issue.
"We know that it's going to be a difficult challenge," she said to the board. "We ask you to take it as far as you need to go."
Ross commissioners and North Hills school board members held an unprecedented joint meeting Oct. 9 at North Hills Junior High School with about 200 people, mostly from Ross and West View, in the audience. Mayernik again demonstrated with maps how the 29th District was being divvied up.
The meeting produced a surprise guest -- fellow state Rep. Mike Diven, D-Brookline, a former boxer who had recently warned party leaders in an e-mail message, "Don't [write] checks with your mouth that your body can't cash."
"I think what happened with this reapportionment was wrong," Diven said. "It disenfranchised all of Allegheny County."
Diven said he had raised objections to the redistricting in a private meeting with the reapportionment committee. As a result, he said he, too, was punished: His district was reconfigured to give him 55 percent new constituents, including a slice of Ross.
Referring to his embattled House colleague, "I'd be hard-pressed to fill his shoes," Diven said.
At the end of that meeting, Ross commissioners authorized a mass mailing to township residents to advise them of the issues. The school board then passed a resolution opposing the reapportionment and also offered to defray the cost of the township's mailing.
Mayernik damned House Democratic leadership with faint praise.
"They have done a masterful job of taking away the voice of 60,000 hard-working taxpayers in the 29th District," Mayernik said, somewhat sarcastically. "I only wish they would have utilized their talents in a positive way to enhance communities and local school districts instead of in a devastating way."
That's why DeMarco is on the cutting edge of this issue.
"Eventually they're just not going to care anymore, and that's what they want," DeMarco said, referring to unscrupulous politicians. "[People become politically apathetic] because of incidents like this."
Free-lance writer Jonathan Barnes contributed to this report.
Discontent is brewing in the North Hills as community leaders digest the redistricting plan handed down by the state Legislature last week.
House Democrats, who controlled the redrawing of the legislative districts in the western half of the state, used it to punish state Rep. David Mayernik, D-Ross, by eliminating his district and putting his home in one he would have great trouble winning. Or at least that's the way Mayernik and some other critics see it.
Their reasoning? Mayernik is a renegade, voting too often with the Republicans who control the state House.
In response to the new map, Mayernik said this week he is pondering switching parties altogether.
The redrawing of districts was prompted by population changes recorded in the 2000 census. New districts take effect next year.
Mayernik is not suffering alone. In eliminating his 29th District, the Legislature chopped the north side of the Ohio River into some rather strangely shaped pieces.
For instance, Avalon, Ben Avon and Emsworth are in District 27, packaged with Neville Island and a chain of city neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs to the west of Pittsburgh, reaching all the way south to Dormont. The northern part of the district is connected to the rest by a neck composed solely of the Ohio River itself. It is represented by Tom Petrone, D-Crafton Heights.
Ohio, Kilbuck and the Sewickley area, meanwhile, are in District 44, dominated by Robinson, Moon and other western suburbs. It is represented by John Pippy, R-Moon. And then there's District 16, a vaguely fish-shaped creation with a long, skinny "Mayernik Tail" slicing across the southern part of Franklin Park and western Ross -- including where Mayernik lives -- and reaching down to Bellevue. Most of the district -- the fish's body -- is in Beaver County. The seat is held by Susan Laughlin, D-Ambridge. It also includes Leetsdale, Leet and Bell Acres.
That's just one district claiming part of Ross. There are four others:
District 20 (Don Walko, D-North Side) includes West View, part of Reserve and city wards on both sides of the Allegheny;
District 21 (Frank Pistella, D-Bloomfield) includes another chunk of Reserve and part of Shaler along with Etna, Millvale, Sharpsburg and a number of city wards across the Allegheny;
District 22 (Mike Diven, D-Brookline) includes neighborhoods on both the North Side and in the western end of the city and stretches all the way south to Castle Shannon, Baldwin Township and Whitehall;
District 30 (Jeff Habay, R-Shaler) includes Hampton, the northern part of Shaler, O'Hara and Fox Chapel.
Ross leaders -- who represent the most populous municipality in the northern suburbs -- are not pleased.
"I don't know how Ross Township can get decent representation in five districts," Ross Commissioner Dan DeMarco said.
"I'm not surprised that the [state] leadership did what they did to Dave [Mayernik], but I was shocked by what they did to Ross Township. How can you say that the redistricting plan passes the legal standards of a legitimate legislative district?"
Ross has worked closely with Mayernik to get state funding for various projects, DeMarco said. It now will have to deal with five representatives.
Unless opponents can get the plan overturned, that is. Mayernik is hosting a public meeting on the plan at 7 tonight at the Mayernik Center in Avonworth Community Park in Kilbuck, and DeMarco and others are hoping a public outcry could make a difference.
Avonworth school board member Jack Connors, of Ohio Township, is planning to be at that meeting, and he is taking things a step further -- he's organizing a movement called Citizens to Save the 29th District.
"They've disenfranchised 60,000 of us," Connors said.
Connors claims the filleting of Ross violates the state constitution because such splitting of communities should be done "only as a last resort.
"Thirty-two thousand people have been carved up," Connors said, referring to Ross residents. He said those people and others in what was the 29th District are his concern, not Mayernik's career. "It's not Dave's district," Connors said. "It belongs to the people."
The Mayernik effect doesn't stop in his district. Franklin Park, all of which is now represented by Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, is being sliced almost in half to help form the Mayernik Tail, with the southern portion in Laughlin's Beaver County-based 16th District.
"It's difficult for someone to represent Franklin Park and come from a different county," said borough Manager Ambrose Rocca. "It would make more sense to leave it alone. This is gerrymandering at its best."
Council members in Bellevue, at the tip of the District 16 tail, spoke out about the redistricting plan at their meeting last week. Council soon will be sending a letter of objection to state legislators. A formal resolution opposing the redistricting plan is being drafted and could be approved at council's meeting tonight.
Avalon Manager Harry Dilmore also was unhappy about the change. "I've actually had nine different people call me this morning from other boroughs, wondering what to do," he said Friday. "All the stuff that Dave's done on this [new Avalon] library project alone, he's been great for us ...
"It's a big blow for all the North Boroughs."
The impact of redistricting is less significant in the northeastern suburbs, but oddities exist there, too.
Not all are being met with disapproval, however.
Blawnox, for instance, will remain in District 32, represented by Anthony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills. It is the only community in the district that is north of the Allegheny River. The rest is made up of Penn Hills and a portion of Plum in the eastern suburbs. In fact, to get from Blawnox to the rest of the district means a trip upriver to the Hulton bridge or downriver to the Highland Park bridge, both well out of the district.
Blawnox Mayor Tom Smith, however, said he's glad his borough will continue to be represented by DeLuca.
"He's been wonderful to us," Smith said. "We've had him for years and years."
Smith said the unusual configuration of the district has never posed a problem. "What we need is access to our state representative, and we have it," he said.
Brackenridge and Tarentum also are pleased -- they will now be part of District 33, represented by Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, joining other communities in the northeastern corner of Allegheny County, including neighboring Fawn, Frazer, Harrison and East Deer.
The two municipalities had been part of District 54, represented by John Pallone, D-Arnold, which covers part of Westmoreland County, including New Kensington, Arnold and Lower Burrell. District 54 now will also include some communities in Armstrong County.
"Frank [Dermody], I think, is the logical person to be our state representative," said Brackenridge Mayor Gilmore Hendrickson.
Hendrickson said Pallone had been a good representative, but that Dermody already has many years of working with the northeast region of Allegheny County. "In our case, I think the redistricting turned out very well," he said.
House Democrats controlled redistricting locally through a deal between the Democrats and Republicans.
Population shifts over the past decade dictated that the western part of the state would have to lose three seats to the eastern part, where most of the state's modest growth has been concentrated.
Legislative redistricting is handled by a bipartisan commission that comprises the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate and a chairman, Superior Court Senior Judge Frank Montemuro, who was appointed by the state Supreme Court.
The city of Pittsburgh and the Mon Valley suffered some of the most severe population declines, making it logical to look there for the forfeited seats.
Montemuro encouraged the caucus leaders to find consensus wherever possible. He allowed the Republican panel members to take the lead on drawing new districts in the growing areas outside Philadelphia in the east, and at the same time he allowed the Democrats to propose new map lines in the southwest, where seats had to be eliminated.
The impending retirement of Rep. Leo Trich, D-Washington, gave the Democrats a painless way to eliminate one seat. Rep. Thomas Michlovic, D-North Braddock, gave the caucus leaders a similar opportunity in the near Mon Valley.
Some rank-and-file members of the Democratic caucus were upset that their leaders didn't take advantage of the opportunity. Instead they essentially eliminated the seats of Mayernik and Ralph Kaiser, D-Brentwood.
Rep. Mike Veon, D-Beaver Falls, the party's point man on redistricting, defended the strategy. He argued that Michlovic's seat had such a strong Democratic voting performance that it would have been "malpractice" to eliminate that seat rather than either the Mayernik or Kaiser districts.
Mayernik and Kaiser have clashed frequently with the leaders of the Democratic caucus. From their perspective, that track record demonstrated independence in the interests of their districts. But in the leaders' view, they had ignored loyalty to their party's caucus in order to cut deals with the chamber's GOP majority.
The targeted legislators saw the new legislative map as an act of revenge. Veon conceded that there were political considerations but insisted they coincided with political shifts that had seen the voting in their districts trending Republican.
The state Senate redistricting was a less painful process for the region. The majority on the panel that draws the lines rejected a Republican suggestion for the elimination of one district in Allegheny County -- either through the elimination of the seat held by Sen. Leonard Bodack, or by forcing Democratic Sens. Jay Costa and Sean Logan to run against one another.
Instead, all of the region's Senate districts were changed, but the incumbents each maintain a district.
For a detailed list of the new House and Senate districts throughout Western Pennsylvania, including the name of the legislator who currently holds each seat and the roster of communities that would be included in the district after reapportionment, visit www.post-gazette.com/election/.
Post-Gazette staff writers Brian David, James O'Toole, Rick Nowlin and Susan Jacobs contributed to this report, along with free-lance writer Jonathan Barnes.
State House's Gordner Switches to GOP; Rep. Mayernik, displeased with redrawing, may follow
By John M.R. Bull
October 2, 2001
A year ago, Democratic leaders in the state House actually thought they had a chance to capture the majority for the first time in years.
Then there was last November's election, in which Republicans sauntered away with a 104-99 majority.
Now, a Democratic state representative from Columbia County has defected and joined the Republican caucus.
And more Democrats, unhappy with how their leaders have redrawn their district lines to reflect population shifts, are making noise about possibly becoming members of the GOP caucus.
State Rep. John Gordner, 39, of Berwick, switched parties over the weekend, leaving the Democratic caucus after nine years and putting the Republican majority in the House at 105-98, their largest since the early 1970s.
Gordner said he is more comfortable philosophically as a Republican and will run for state Senate when the senator from that area, Republican Edward Helfrick of Mount Carmel, retires. It's a heavily Republican Senate district and a registered Democrat would have little chance of success.
House Republicans welcomed Gordner with open arms.
"When he decided to become a Republican, John Gordner took a big step in the right direction for Pennsylvania and the people he represents," said House Majority Leader John Perzel, R-Philadelphia.
One Pittsburgh area Democrat, David Mayernik of Ross, said he is considering switching parties, upset that the leaders of his caucus diced his legislative district into seven pieces to destroy his power base and decrease his re-election prospects.
"This is not the first time I've been approached" by the Republicans, Mayernik said. "There has been an ongoing, standing offer for me to join the GOP. I'm weighing my options."
Mayernik said Gordner's defection was a symptom of the rancor in the House Democratic caucus toward its leaders, Minority Leader H. William DeWeese of Waynesburg and Minority Whip Mike Veon of Beaver.
Two other House Democrats who are upset with DeWeese and Veon over the redistricting plan said they will not switch parties.
"I'm a Democrat. I'm going to remain a Democrat," said Rep. Ralph Kaiser of Brentwood, whose district was eliminated through redistricting and who lives in what will be part of Rep. Harry Readshaw's Carrick district next year. They will face each other if both decide to run for re-election to the House next year.
Readshaw said he also will remain a Democrat, if for no other reason than his legislative district is heavily Democratic.