|This map, made for The Mercury when the wards were last re-districted, hangs on the wall by my desk for easy reference. Do we really need to be any more divided than we already are?|
We have a saying in the newsroom, that often-enough Pottstown gets trapped in a conventional kind of thinking we describe as "that's the way we've always done it."
We understand this, because we often find ourselves thinking the same way at The Mercury.
But something shook me out of my conventional thinking last month and I began to ponder the question above...."Why do we need wards?"
What prompted this rumination was the recent announcement of two Democratic candidates for the Fourth Ward seat being abandoned by Borough Council President Stephen Toroney.
Two well-qualified candidates -- one a Pottstown native and Pottstown High School teacher, the other a former candidate who serves on several board ran for mayor and regularly attends council meetings -- announced their intention to run.
And that's when that final word caught in my mind.
"Wards" are what is preventing Pottstown from enjoying a campaign with both these candidates.
So I began to wonder what purpose they serve.
The obvious answer is to ensure even representation.
But how different are we really? We all pay the same tax rates, we all (presumably) want to see the borough revitalized and getting its fair share of public monies; to see our roads paved, our streets safe and our community desirable.
Is Pottstown truly so wildly diverse that a council person from Ward 7 can't understand the problems of someone who lives in Ward 1?
Now look at those two wards and recognize most people would consider Ward 1 to have a higher African-American population and so they might argue wards ensure a voice for that demographic on council.
And yes, previous occupants of that seat included Alison Hunter and Mark Gibson, one a Democrat, one a Republican; both African-Americans both independent thinkers.
But Ward 1 is currently represented by a Caucasian fellow named Ryan Procsal, who ran unopposed.
And Ward 7 (the "Rosedale" ward) is represented by Joe Kirkland, an African-American who not only ousted a Caucasian incumbent; he then, four years later, beat off a a challenge from another Caucasian ... twice.
So perhaps this is the right place (and time) to consider whether those racial markers matter any more. Wouldn't it be great if they didn't?
February is Black History Month and much of that history is devoted to Black Americans fighting to be considered nothing more than Americans.
Are there still differences? Of course.
Do we need to keep working at these things? Of course.
But maybe one way to do that is to do away with the idea that whites and blacks are so different in Pottstown that we need to encode representation for each in how we elect our representatives.
Pottstown is not the deep South, where laws are needed to ensure voting access for African-Americans.
Yes, Pennsylvania tried to enact a Voter ID law which, intended or not, disproportionately disenfranchises poor and black voters, but a judge thankfully tossed it, largely for those reasons.
And consider that our mayor, Sharon Thomas, is African-American and she defeated a Caucasian incumbent who had upset Thomas's incumbency four years earlier.
And the mayor is a post that is elected borough-wide.
Why isn't everyone else?
The school board is elected borough-wide and lord knows the taxes levied by that body tower over those levied by council.
Each election cycle, we see activists and politicos bemoan the difficulties in finding people with enough time, talent and will to run for public office. Why are we limiting the pool of candidates?
Two excellent candidates might be next-door neighbors. Currently, we could only have the benefit of one.
What if we increased that pool of candidates by a factor of seven? What would we lose?
When people think of Pottstown, this is all we should
want them to think of.
Indeed, the first obstacle might be said to be that we are officially and permanently cut into seven different pieces.
What better way to engage the entire community in a discussion of unity than to have a community-wide discussion about making us unified?
Then consider the matter of re-districting.
We're now five years late on the 10-year cycle of re-districting that is supposed to follow every Census.
Do we really have the time and resources in Pottstown to fritter them away on that exercise in futility while we face a host of other more important issues?
I mean come on people, we're 5.5 square miles. We're not Nebraska. What's the point?
It is probably too late to change the election framework for the current election cycle, but perhaps that's better.
After all, although current candidates brought this issue to mind, you can't change the rules of an election in the middle of an election.
But we should consider changing it for the next one.
In the coming year, I feel certain The Mercury is going to address this question, to find out how we eliminate wards and to ask you if you think they should be eliminated.
Tell me what you think, either in a comment here to be shared with other readers, or in an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
As it stands, the only good reason that seems apparent for keeping the ward system is "that's the way we've always done it."
|After all, we're one school district. Why can't we be one town?|