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Murtha's redrawn district pains some

| Friday, Jan. 4, 2002

Under the compromise that created the new 12th Congressional District, many key Valley communities will continue to be represented by U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown. But for several other Alle-Kiski towns, the deal has produced a splitting headache.

"We're not happy about it," South Buffalo Supervisor Ron Covone said.

South Buffalo, East Deer and Brackenridge will be split between two districts under a new congressional map approved Thursday by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Murtha's sprawling new district includes parts of eight counties, including Valley portions of Allegheny, Armstrong and Westmoreland.

The plan was devised to maximize Republican candidates' advantage in future elections, but Democrats and some local Republicans have complained it isn't fair to Murtha or to the communities he's represented for the past 10 years.

One contentious point is the splitting of South Buffalo between the 12th District, currently represented by Murtha, and the 6th District, currently represented by Rep. Phil English, R-Erie, in what until now was called the 21st District.

The division will split the Northpointe Industrial Park - a key Murtha project - in half.

"I don't think it was very wise choice to split Northpointe Industrial Park in half since Congressman Murtha has worked so hard," Covone said.

Murtha spokesman Brad Clemenson said the congressman was happy the 12th District kept a portion of the industrial park, as well as the Electro-Optics Center near Kittanning.

"He was very concerned about losing the momentum we've got with the Electro-Optics Center, and Northpointe is very important to that as well," Clemenson said. "Jack very much wanted to continue to represent that area."

Although Murtha was not totally pleased with the map approved Thursday, he said in a written release that he is satisfied it is the best that could have been achieved under the circumstances.

Local officials who will have to represent municipalities and counties on the fringe of two districts were more unhappy.

"It's ridiculous," said Armstrong County Commissioner Jim Scahill, whose county will be split between the 12th and the 6th districts.

"Phil English is a fine representative and fine guy, but he doesn't have the connections on defense that Murtha has. And those defense contractors don't want to be anywhere but in (Murtha's) district."

Armstrong County School District Superintendent Bill Kerr, who testified at state Legislature hearings on the reapportionment issue, also said he was disappointed.

"When you have somebody like Congressman Murtha who is so well respected and has consistently demonstrated efforts to help western Pennsylvania, you'd think they would show him some consideration," Kerr said. "When you start chopping up a district, it doesn't make sense."

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