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Republican council members threaten suit over redistricting

| Saturday, Oct. 6, 2001, 12:00 p.m.

Throwing down the gauntlet over redrawn Allegheny County voting lines, Republican County Council members said Friday they plan to sue to scrap the Democratic-approved voting map unless Democrats agree to start over.

However, their ultimatum immediately fell on deaf ears.

'It's a closed issue as far as I'm concerned,' said Councilman Wayne Fontana, a Brookline Democrat. 'I'm sure the other eight council members who supported this plan also see it as fair and able to withstand any legal challenge.'

That response would seem to guarantee a lawsuit.

Republicans claimed the map of the council's 13 voting districts was created in secret by Fontana and other Democrats intent on limiting the GOP to no more than four seats in future elections. Democrats approved the map Aug. 23.

In addition to the 13 districts, County Council has two at-large members that represent each party.

Redistricting, which is required under the 2000 U.S. Census to reflect population shifts, will remain in place until the next census in 2010.

'We are confident that under law we will succeed in a lawsuit,' said Councilman Ron Francis, a Republican from Ben Avon.

He said council Republicans expect it will cost up to $100,000 to mount an effective legal challenge and are now raising funds from individuals and organizations he would not identify. The lawsuit would be handled by the Downtown firm of Reed Smith Shaw & McClay, where Francis works.

Francis and three other Republicans on the County Council unveiled their own voting district plan, saying it moves fewer people into new districts and spreads Pittsburgh residents among fewer districts.

Francis said Republicans will take legal action unless the council's Democratic majority agrees Tuesday to withdraw the map and reopen discussions.

Francis said the approved voting map has 'a significant legal problem' because it divides Pittsburgh across six council districts, up from the current four districts. The county Administrative Code requires that municipalities be cut into as few districts as possible.

The GOP-proposed map makes only minor changes to the original voting map used for the council's inaugural 1999 election and would keep all 13 incumbents in their own districts. The Democratic map places GOP incumbents Tom Shumaker of Pine Township and Jan Rea of McCandless together in a new North Hills district.

The approved voting map moves about 416,000 people - or about a third of the county - into new voting districts, while the GOP proposal would move about 70,000 people.

The proposed GOP map would place the current District 3 Democratic candidate, Anthony Taliani, who lives in East Deer Township, in the new District 4 with Democratic incumbent Rick Schwartz of Plum.

Brian Nearing can be reached at bnearing@tribweb.com or (412) 391-0927.

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