Pennsylvania's new legislative boundaries put Jim Ferlo's district in jeopardy
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HARRISBURG -- While the state Supreme Court's rejection of an earlier set of legislative boundaries saved one Democratic senator from Allegheny County, a revised plan approved on Friday places another in political peril.
That plan, among other changes, would shift two Pittsburgh-area seats -- one in the state House and one in the state Senate -- to eastern Pennsylvania. Both seats were proposed to be moved in the preliminary plan approved in April.
But in moving the seat previously held by Republican Sen. Jane Orie, the final map also redraws the neighboring district of Democratic Sen. Jim Ferlo of Highland Park so that it includes much of the Republican-heavy North Hills.
Democrats protested that change in the Republican-drawn map, arguing that the updates mean that Ms. Orie's district is being moved in name only.
"At the end of the day all we're doing is substituting the number" of the district being moved with that of Mr. Ferlo's district, said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills. "We have a plan that's going to perpetuate Republican dominance in the state Legislature."
Republicans defended their proposed district lines, arguing that they would have preferred moving Mr. Ferlo's seat to the more populous Monroe County, but instead relocated the district with no current incumbent.
Mr. Ferlo, who has represented a district stretching from Brighton Heights east into Westmoreland and Armstrong counties since 2003, could not be reached for comment following Friday's Legislative Reapportionment Commission meeting.
The new maps are the five-member commission's second attempt to redraw districts to reflect population changes in the 2010 census. That panel includes leaders of each legislative caucus, and is chaired by former Superior Court Judge Stephen McEwen.
Previous boundaries approved in December were rejected in January by the state Supreme Court, which said the plan divided too many localities in its attempt to create districts of equal population. The new maps likely will face judicial review again before taking effect in 2014.
The revisions will not affect the fall general election, which will take place under the current legislative boundaries.
The plan passed the five-member commission this afternoon on a vote of 4-1, with Mr. Costa voting no. He offered an alternative plan that was defeated.
The new plan continues previous efforts to relocate the South Hills House seat previously held by Allegheny County controller Chelsa Wagner to Allentown. Four other House seats also are shifted to other parts of the state, which Republican leaders attributed to changes in population.
"We take into account what have been the population shifts within the state of Pennsylvania so that there is fair representation for each and every area," said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods.
The Democratic leader in that chamber, Rep. Frank Dermody of Oakmont, described it as "a fair map that gives us an opportunity to take back the House."
Meanwhile, Mr. Ferlo's district will become much less Democratic after it absorbs the northern Allegheny County suburbs that Ms. Orie represented prior to her corruption conviction.
His district will begin at the county's northern border, reaching south to pick up the city's 11th and 12th Wards.
"It ripped out from Senator Ferlo the areas of the city of Pittsburgh that he has represented for so many decades, as a council member, as a community activist, and as a state senator," Mr. Costa said. "He has been a strong, strong advocate, particularly for the minority community in that district, and the minority community now is being divided into multiple districts."
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said Mr. Ferlo's district was the smallest in the state, and additional residents had to be added.
Part of that shift, according to his staff, also was due to changes in the 37th Senatorial District so that the April primary's winners -- Republican D. Raja of Mt. Lebanon and Democrat Greg Parks of Pleasant Hills -- would reside within the district's boundaries.
In central Pennsylvania, mapmakers also tweaked the 15th Senatorial District so it continues to include Harrisburg and the Democratic candidate competing in the general election.
First Published June 9, 2012 12:29 am