Councilman chides committee before new district map released
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Pittsburgh's Reapportionment Advisory Committee is drawing flak even before it has proposed a map of new council districts.
In a letter to the committee Wednesday, Councilman Ricky Burgess complained the members aren't maximizing the opportunity to keep wards and neighborhoods within a single council district when possible.
For example, Mr. Burgess is concerned about a proposal to split the 8th Ward between himself and Councilman Patrick Dowd when Mr. Dowd could represent that ward himself. Currently, the ward is shared by Mr. Burgess, Mr. Dowd and Councilman Bill Peduto.
"Absent some substantive logical rationale for these moves, I can only conclude that this is a naked partisan political gerrymander, which is not the role of this committee," Mr. Burgess said.
In a response Thursday, committee chairman Matt Merriman-Preston called Mr. Burgess' criticism premature and off mark.
"In keeping with precedent, once our committee has approved a preliminary map, we will present it to the public and hold a series of public meetings to gain feedback," he said.
Currently, Mr. Burgess and Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle have the only majority-black districts on the nine-member council. Mr. Burgess favors a redistricting plan that would split more neighborhoods among council districts and give Mr. Lavelle's district a white majority, Mr. Merriman-Preston said.
"As 26 percent of the city's population, the African-American families and individuals in Pittsburgh deserve better," Mr. Merriman-Preston said.
Each council member appointed a representative to the advisory committee; Mr. Merriman-Preston is Mr. Peduto's appointee.
Council districts are redrawn every 10 years after the census. Each council district should represent about 34,000 residents under the new map. Because Mr. Burgess' district lost the most residents in the past 10 years -- about 7,000 -- his boundaries must expand while others' contract.
Once the committee releases its proposed map and holds public meetings, council members have the authority to make changes or to start from scratch.
"If history is any guide, they'll make some amendments and pass it," Mr. Merriman-Preston said.
First Published June 15, 2012 12:00 am