Government
6:39 pm
Wed October 3, 2012

Committee Proposes New City Council Districts

A committee using the 2010 Census to redraw the nine Pittsburgh City Council Districts has submitted its final proposal to Council, conceding a large population disparity among some districts in order to maintain two black-majority Council territories.

Since Pittsburgh's population is 23.8 percent African-American, the city is required by the Federal Voting Right act to have at least two Council Districts where the majority of voting-age residents are black. According to the 2012 Reapportionment Advisory Committee, these two zones have traditionally been District 6 (Hill/Downtown/North Side) and District 9 (East End).

Right now, Council Finance Chair Ricky Burgess represents District 9, while Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle holds the District 6 seat. Both men are African-American.

Under the current map, 71.9 percent of potential voters in District 9 are African-American, but only 45.4 percent of legal adults in District 6 are black. The RAC shifted some North Side neighborhoods from District 1 (North Pittsburgh) to District 6 to boost the latter's percentage of potential black voters to 51 percent. In doing so, the committee made District 6 the least populous zone, with 8.6 percent fewer people than the most populous territory, District 4 (South Hills). That's a difference of 2,890 residents.

8.6% might be OK

RAC Chair Matt Merriman-Preston said population deviations under 10 percent are legal under the Pennsylvania constitution, but this is a larger difference than he'd hoped for.

"What the 2002 Reapportionment Advisory Committee achieved was a deviation of 2.6 percent," said Merriman-Preston. "Having a deviation of 8.6 percent in large part is a function of the other constraints that we have, in terms of ensuring that we maintain two minority-majority districts and meeting our other requirements as well."

It may satisfy the Civil Rights Act to put just enough voting-age African-Americans into District 6 to reach a majority, said Councilman Lavelle, but that doesn't guarantee black representation on City Council. For example, Lavelle said it may have made sense to trade the lower part of the Central North Side for the upper portion according to Census data, but the move isn't practical.

"The lower part of Central North Side has a much higher turnout than the upper portion, which is majority minority population versus a majority white population. You're actually creating the less likelihood that that district is electing a minority when you actually look at the actual turnout of those districts," said Lavelle.

However, Merriman-Preston said he doesn't think the proposed changes would decrease the likelihood of African-American representation.

"I looked at one example, the [2008 Democratic presidential] primary election between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama," said Merriman-Smith. "In our proposed district, every single voting district in there voted for Obama over Clinton."

The city creates a Reapportionment Advisory Committee every ten years to fulfill its requirement to redraw the nine Council Districts according to the new Census data. In addition to providing an appropriate number of black-majority districts, the committee must also draw districts that are compact, contiguous, and roughly equal in population.

The 2012 Reapportionment Advisory Committee held four public meetings across the city this summer before writing its recommendations in late June and submitting a final plan to City Council on Wednesday.

Council President Darlene Harris said the proposed new map will be discussed at Council's standing committee meeting on October 10. Final passage could come as early as October 16.

[below: a copy of the 2012 RAC's final report]