Does Philadelphia have too many City Council members?
If you thought the fight over redistricting was bitter, imagine the fracas that would erupt from an attempt to eliminate some of their seats.
Philadelphia's 1.5 million people have 17 representatives on City Council, 10 by district and seven at-large. By comparison, 15 council members represent L.A.’s 3.8 million people.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who represents the 7th District, says that each Council member has a large number of constituents to answer to. "If the 7th district was a city, it would be the third largest city in the whole state. I think the number of Council members is appropriate to the city's population."
The seven at-large Council members supposedly represent everyone in the city yet no one in particular. The seats seem to function mainly as jobs for the sons of former mayors, three of whom currently sit on Council as at-large representatives: Bill Greene, W. Wilson Goode Jr., and Frank L. Rizzo Jr.
In 2011, the city will be redrawing the district lines. This might also be a good time to take a hard look at what each of our 17 Council members are doing.
The 2011 budget allocates $16 million for City Council. We might not be able to do away with the trash tax, but at nearly $1 million per Council member, slashing an at-large seat –or five–would help the city dig out of its hole.
Predictably, Council members are not so enthusiastic about the idea.
“I don’t think it’s gonna happen,” said Councilman Darrell Clarke, of the 5th District.
Councilman-At-Large Frank Rizzo Jr. says there is value in at-large members. “When people don’t get satisfactory service from a councilman they come to an at large member,” he says.
“At-large members have a different perspective,” Rizzo continues. “District councilmen are concerned about their district. We are concerned about the city as a whole.”
Greene agrees. “There has to be someone looking out for the interests of the city as a whole as opposed to parochial concerns of a single district. We need people focusing on citywide issues like taxes and the criminal-justice system,” he says.
And why do so many of our past mayors’ sons become at-large Council members?
“Because the voters elect us,” Greene says. “The reality is it requires a vote of Council to eliminate Council people."
So while eliminating some seats might be a nice idea, don't hold your breath.
Besides, Ed Rendell and John Street's children might be looking for jobs in 2015.
Instead of following natural geographic, neighborhood, or existing ward boundaries, the lines twist and wander with no apparent logic. Yet there is a clear, cynical and sinister logic behind gerrymandering.
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