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New council districts plan also divides Mexican War Streets into two

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 1:02 p.m.

The latest proposal released Wednesday for redrawing City Council district boundaries would split the Mexican War Streets neighborhood between two districts, despite opposition from residents.

Yet the plan appears to bow to opposition from Regent Square residents by keeping that area in Pittsburgh's 5th District.

The proposal to split the Mexican War Streets drew immediate criticism from a civic group.

“It gives the appearance of breaking the neighborhood apart along racial lines and along family income as well,” said Paul Johnson, president of the Mexican War Streets Society.

Matt Merriman-Preston, who chairs a nine-member redistricting committee, said splitting the Mexican War Streets is necessary to maintain a minority edge in Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle's District 6. The district encompasses some of the richest and poorest real estate in the city, with the Strip District, Downtown, Uptown, the Hill District and portions of the North Side and Oakland.

Residents of Regent Square in the city's East End and Mexican War Streets in the North Side opposed initial plans to move sections of their neighborhoods into other districts.

The first proposal moved part of Regent Square from Councilman Corey O'Connor's District 5 into Councilman Ricky Burgess' District 9. The revised plan submitted would keep the neighborhood in O'Connor's district.

The Mexican War Streets, however, would split between districts represented by Lavelle and Council President Darlene Harris.

Johnson said his group and the Central Northside Neighborhood Council continue to oppose the plan that would split the neighborhood at Samsonia Street.

“It's hard to respond because on the one hand the neighborhood has to be adjusted so (Lavelle) can maintain minority status,” Johnson said.

People living north of Samsonia would be counted in Lavelle's district, and those south of it would be in Harris' district.

The state constitution requires Pittsburgh to redraw political boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes and ensure equal representation among nine council districts. Districts must be of about equal size, contiguous and as compact as possible.

The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that districts traditionally populated by minorities be redrawn so that the minority group represents a majority of district voters. Pittsburgh has two districts predominantly populated by blacks: Burgess' district and Lavelle's district.

City Council, which must approve the changes, can tweak the plan. Members must approve it by year's end.

Bob Bauder is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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