New map splits townships, takes much of local area from Pitts’ district
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
Assuming new redistricting maps released Tuesday withstand likely court challenges, U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts will no longer represent large portions of the greater Unionville area, while Pocopson will also see a new district — and despite being entirely surrounded by Kennett Township, Kennett Square will be in a different congressional district than most of its immediate neighbor.
The new congressional districts announced will split southern Chester County between the Seventh District of U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan and Pitts. In the Unionvile area, only entire townships of East Marlborough — where Pitts lives — and West Marlborough will remain in the 16th District. Birmingham and Newlin will all move to the 7th, along with Pocopson which will switch from the 6th District of U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach. Pennsbury gets split between the 7th and the 16th, with Pennsbury North 1 staying in the 16th.
It was the shape and format of the 7th District that delayed the formal introduction of the new maps — which had been expected last week. The new 7th — which had been a primarily Delaware County seat previously, now takes up one third of Chester County, a hunk of Lancaster (which had entirely been in the 16th), some of Berks and about half of Montgomery County, touching the Bucks County line.
The new districts — drawn largely by the Republicans, who control the state house — will have to be formally approved by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett. That is expected before the end of the year, although court challenges to the new plan could follow early in the new year.
Should the districts withstand court challenge, the new 7th could be the site of an epic and expensive battle between the freshman Meehan and former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who held the 7th seat before Meehan, but gave it up to run for U.S. Senate. With a national fundraising base, higher name recognition and parts of the 7th that were once solidly Republican beginning to trend Democratic, the new district might end up home to the most celebrated and contentious Congressional race in the nation in 2012. Although Sestak, a retired Navy admiral has said nothing, party insiders in both parties suggest he is gearing up for a run to regain his old seat.
In a statement, Meehan seemed to acknowledge that the district’s shape is unusual, but that the changes were needed to make the population numbers work.
“I understand that the district needed to gain population and expand, and that is what the state legislature has done,” he said. “I appreciate how hard it must have been to complete this redistricting process.”
Locally, Pitts is seeing the largest changes to his district and admits to some disappointment about losing some of the communities he’s served for more than a decade.
“Clearly, this was a very challenging map for the legislature,” Pitts said in a statement issued by his office Wednesday. “I’m very sorry to lose some communities I have represented for a long time. By the same token, I’m pleased to be regaining some communities I lost in the last redraw ten years ago. I’ll work hard for my new constituents, particularly those who are struggling as we work to get the economy going again.”
The shape of the new map — in particular the new 7th District — has a lot of people asking questions. Not surprisingly, the Democrats are crying foul.
“The Republicans have proposed a map far more partisan and gerrymandered than anyone would have guessed, a map that they will now force into law without any public input,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Chairman Jim Burn. “We knew that the Republicans would use their control of the process to draw a map that benefitted Republicans, but we did not expect them to abuse their power to this degree, all while shutting out the public. The Republicans are splitting up communities to benefit politicians at the expense of the people they were elected to represent. With the State Senate planning to vote on the map tomorrow, there will be no time for the people of these communities to voice their disapproval of the map. This map – and this entire process – has been shameful, it in no way takes into consideration the concerns of Pennsylvanians or how best to represent them, and it is not worthy of our great Commonwealth.”
Possibly the strangest feature of the new district map — and one that could lead to trouble in likely court challenges is the case of Kennett Square. The borough remains in the 16th, and appears to be completely surrounded by the new 7th, of which Kennett Township is now included. There are indications that the map is in error — the text description of the district describes a slim corridor attaching Kennett Square to the 16th, or the borough is actually in the 7th. Kennett’s 3rd precinct is also in the 16th.