WHY IS THE 172ND GERRYMANDERED?
In the November 2000 elections, while George W. Bush and Al Gore were still counting chads, Perzel squeaked passed Democratic challenger Mark Chilutti by fewer than 100 votes
, 92 to be exact: 12,620 to 12,528.
Coming that close to losing a legislative seat he held since 1976 threw Perzel into defense mode, says then-Attorney General Tom Corbett, who alleged
it was that near-defeat that prompted the powerful state legislator to begin using public money to fund data-driven computer analysis of voter trends to bolster GOP efficiency. [Read the pre-trial grand jury findings on Perzel's indictment in PDF part one
, part two
and part three
That fear bubbled over to his district too, critics say. During the following year's redistricting, Fox Chase and a part of Burholme, which still had meaningful Republican registrations, were broken off the formerly nearby 176th district, then represented by Perzel's outgoing GOP state house colleague Chris Wogan, and merged into Perzel's 172nd, bolstering his likely supporters. (In that same redistricting year, the 176th district was moved altogether
, leaving Philadelphia and heading north to Monroe County.) See the 1992-era Pennsylvania House districts here [PDF]
HOW BADLY IS IT GERRYMANDERED?
But just how irrational are the boundaries of the 172nd today?
Only one ward's boundaries
are within the 172nd entirely -- the 64th, of which Perzel is still ward leader
-- while another six -- 55-58, 63 and 66 -- are broken into neighboring districts. Go back to Perzel's 2000 battle with Chilutti
and, sure enough, in the 64th ward, Perzel had an 18 percent swing over his Democratic challenger, while the 55th was basically a draw and Chilutti cruised by 20 points in the 62nd. The former was sliced and diced and the latter was eliminated altogether in that following year's redistricting and the 64th stayed firm.
That means, if you live on the 3100-block of Hellerman Street
, a block from the major Frankford Avenue corridor often dubbed the Gateway to the Northeast, despite being in the heart of Mayfair, despite being solidly in the 55th ward [PDF]
, despite being surrounded by neighbors who vote in the 172nd district, you no longer did after that election. Neither does anyone southwest of Levick Street and east of Frankford Avenue, which bleeds into adjacent Wissinoming, a neighborhood seeing its racial demographic and voting patterns change rapidly.
In a 2010 white paper [PDF]
, local online mapping company Azavea
used its software to track
how compact the country's legislative districts were at all levels of government. The thinking, with exception given for quirky geographic and municipal boundaries, is that the less compact a district, the more its boundaries have been massaged, presumably for political protection by limiting political diversity.