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July 14, 2014, 10:18 am

Ortiz leads Latinos in redistricting protest

Drawing new district lines will benefit some and hurts others. For the city’s African-American community, including the strong voting wards in Northwest Philadelphia, moving district lines could signal change. Yet those in the area’s Latino community insist that it is needed and now.

So, those who support redistricting were scheduled to go to Harrisburg to make their voices heard on Monday, Feb. 27. It was on President’s Day, Monday, Feb. 20 that some Northwest Philadelphians were found outside the Federal Court House in Center City, airing their concerns about how this would affect the Latino vote.

“This is not partisan,” said former City Councilman Angel Ortiz, who founded Latino Lines along with Joe Garcia and Wynne Alexander. “This is about fairness. Most Puerto Ricans and other Latinos do vote overwhelmingly Democratic. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue, but it’s a fairness issue. Latinos, according to the last U.S. Census, have 760,000 citizens who can vote in Pennsylvania. In 10 years we will have a million.

“The excuse given for keeping the district lines of 2001 is that they don’t want to move the primary date. I heard in New York they are having three different primaries. So this is not about a date. Election Day will be Nov. 6, but the primary dates are flexible. We want justice,” Ortiz said.

All redistricting is not fair, according to Ortiz. The former councilman is quick to single out the 197th district as an example. He said though Latinos would get a district of almost 60 percent it was “gerrymandering towards African Americans,” which is said was unfair. He said because to create this heavily Latino district the line was drawn to dilute the African-American vote on both sides of Broad Street — which is not what Latino Lines is advocating for, he said.

Garcia agreed. He said that by consolidating the Latino voting power it will remedy many of the problems facing that community. This, he said, would also assist the African Americans who live in the area.

“With keeping the 2001 lines it makes people feel disenfranchised,” said Garcia. “Many already don’t trust the system. They will feel more voiceless. They will feel it doesn’t matter whether they vote — which is not true.”

Garcia added that this is not even about just electing Latino candidates either. It is about voting for those who they feel can best represent the Latino community, he stressed. “So if we feel that Tony Payton is the best representative we can vote for him. This is not an issue about party lines or only Latino (officials) it’s about Latino lines,” Garcia said.

State Rep. Cherelle Parker of Mount Airy hopes that any redistricting is both constitutional and beneficial to all of Philadelphia’s constituencies. She is quick to point out that meandering lines through current divisions would be counterproductive.

“Philadelphia is broken up into political wards,” said Parker. “We want to make sure that Philadelphia can keep that. I am extremely sensitive to all constituencies. So while we have to be guided by the state constitution and the census figures to give all communities their fair voice, I would hope the committee’s plan takes into account the political lines within our city and throughout the commonwealth.”

Parker said by doing so the state could avert the redistricting in New York that is causing the state to have three primaries. “So I think that the Pennsylvania court is sensitive to having an organized order and avoid raucous,” Parker said.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the redistricting maps based on the 2010 census last month. They cited among their reasons for voting this way that new lines would crisscross through too many counties and municipalities. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission held its first meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 22, to review the status of the proposals since the court’s ruling.

When it comes to redistricting there are certainly two sides to the story. Perhaps no one is more aware of this than state Rep. Dwight Evans of West Oak Lane. He serves in the 203rd District in a state where there are 50 state senatorial and 203 state house districts. Yet Evans is brief and to the point on the matter. “I support the Supreme Court’s direction on this issue,” Evans said.