City OKs activist proposal

It looked like anti-gerrymandering activist Steve Elfelt had failed to persuade City Council on Wednesday to pass a resolution urging state lawmakers to work toward a Constitutional amendment for a neutral procedure for drawing Congressional and Pennsylvania legislative districts.

Duplicating a presentation he made in March, Elfelt, a volunteer for Fair Districts PA, made a pitch for the group’s proposal for an independent, multi-party commission operating in the open, replacing the current system, by which the party in power can slice up the state to create the maximum number of safe districts for its candidates, while packing away excess opposition voters so as to neutralize them.

After Elfelt’s presentation, council voted 5-2 to approve a redistricting resolution — but one that said essentially nothing: “supporting the elected officials and party leaders in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who represent the citizens of the city of Altoona as they work toward the assignment of legislative and congressional redistricting. …”

However, with the meeting nearly over, except for questions from the media, dissenter Bruce Kelley explained to the group, in answer to a reporter’s question, that he supports gerrymandering reform.

Voters in this area haven’t seen local districts “carved up like a Christmas turkey,” in violation of common sense and common voter interests, but that could change, if the current system — “designed to preserve the people in power” — remains in place, Kelley said.

At that point, Mayor Matt Pacifico, who had voted with the rest — except for Erik Cagle — in favor of the anodyne resolution urging local lawmakers to do whatever they wanted to do, asked solicitor Larry Clapper if it was too late to consider the Elfelt resolution.

No, Clapper said.

Sensing success, Elfelt bounded to the podium and reiterated his pitch, telling the 100 percent Republican council that his group’s proposed system would be non-partisan, and that Republican hero Ronald Reagan damned gerrymandering as anti-democratic, having been victimized

by it.

Pacifico then proposed replacement of the original resolution with Elfelt’s, and it passed 7-0.

Asked to explain the reversal, Pacifico said, “It seemed like the right thing to do — especially with all the work Steve Elfelt put in.”

Elfelt has also succeeded in getting his resolution passed in Tyrone, and he’s made presentations in Logan and Frankstown townships.

Statewide, Fair District PA representatives have secured support resolutions from 281 counties and municipalities, with 160 such resolutions “in progress,” Elfelt said.

A couple of minutes later, with the reporter still asking questions, various cellphones erupted with a tornado warning, coupled with a recommendation to take shelter.

“What just happened was so amazing, even God was blown away,” Elfelt quipped, as the meeting broke up.

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