Resident Dale McKelvey took the microphone toward the end at the public meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 3, where residents and officials discussed the impact of proposed redistricting on Haverford Township.
"First I want to know the physical distance from Haverford Township to the 163rd Legislative District's office, because I need to know where to drive to when I need something notarized," he joked. "If I wanted to be represented by Upper Darby, I'd move to Upper Darby."
Laughter from the more than 50-member audience followed McKelvey's remarks, made at the meeting held at Lynnewood Elementary School in Havertown. State Rep. Greg Vitali organized the event to inform residents what they could do to help prevent redistricting in the township.
Residents and officials are concerned over preliminary plans from the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which would split the southwestern Wards One and Nine in Haverford to move them from Vitali's 166th Legislative District, to Republican State. Rep. Nicholas Micozzie's 163rd District.
During the first part of the meeting, Vitali explained that redistricting redraws elective district boundaries to maintain equal representation based on population, determined by the Census taken every 10 years. Vitali maintained that he didn't think the 2010 Census prompted this specific move, that it was actually politically motivated.
"What's driving this is politics," Vitali said at the meeting. "This is not a Democrat/Republican thing, both sides are guilty of it…I think Republicans have a lot more clout this time."
Vitali added that both parties have used redistricting to hold onto seats in the past, but that this time, he said close sources told him, Republicans are using it to help Micozzie Vitali said Judge Stephen McEwen, chairman of the Reapportionment Commission, had ties with the chairman of the Republican Party in Upper Darby, John McNichol, whom he adds wanted the two wards to go to Micozzie.
He added that it was important for the township to stay together as one legislative district because it allows for citizens to know their state representative and vice versa.
"I think it also fosters a community identity," Vitali said. "You look at Haverford Township Day, and you know we're a community, we have an identity. We have community pride. No one thing can make that or break that. Having unity in representation is one of the things that helps."
Vitali then informed the audience how they could do their part to try and stop this. He said concerned residents can write a letter to Charles O'Connor, executive director of the Reapportionment Commission, specifically stating, "I take exception to the plan," and include reasons, name, address, phone number.
Vitali added that residents could write letters to their local newspapers, contact Rep. Micozzie and Senator Dominic Pileggi, who's on the commission, as well as attend the public hearing in Harrisburg scheduled for Nov. 18 at noon. The public comment period on redistricting ends Nov. 30.
Members of the township's Board of Commissioners were also in attendance, including Commissioners Mario Oliva from the Second Ward, Dan Siegel from the Fourth Ward, the Sixth Ward's Larry Holmes and Stephen D-Emilio and Board President William Wechsler, who belong to the First and Ninth Wards, respectively.
Wechlser and Holmes said they plan to broach the topic at the board meeting on Monday night, Nov. 14 to pass a resolution stating the township opposes the preliminary plan.
"We represent you and you all came out here tonight," Wechsler said at the meeting. "We want our state representative's attention, we want him focusing on our community, getting grants for our recreation centers and libraries, not the Upper Darby recreation centers, not the ones in Clifton Heights."
"We want to be able to go to our representative in Haverford Township," he added.
D'Emilio shared these sentiments.
"It's not good for our township and you as residents need to voice your opinion, just like anything else," D'Emilio said to the audience.
Community members asked what specific Census data would prompt this change, as well as how many people were needed to attend the public hearing or submit exceptions for Harrisburg to take notice.
Vitali said population has shifted in the state, and that alone would have been enough to prompt redistricting. However, he maintained that the dynamic he's noticed over the competition between both political parties to secure party seats is the likelier culprit.
In terms of support at the public meetings and via letters, Vitali and Holmes said the more the better.
Holmes emphasized that the time to act is now, and if this issue were to go before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, he doubts the resolution would be in favor of the township since the state has so many legislative districts dealing with redistricting.
"I will personally go before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court if I have to," Holmes said. "But that would mean that we were already at the bottom of a 10-foot hole trying to get out of it, and that's not good."
Neighbors emailed Rep. Micozzie and the Reapportionment Commission for responses, but has yet to hear back. A phone message was left for McNichol at the Republican headquarters in Upper Darby.
Check back for updates.