Pennsylvania 1st District
Everywhere in Center City Philadelphia, American history is close at hand. The statue of William Penn, who founded the city in 1682, stands 37 feet high atop the ornate, Empire-style City Hall built in the 1880s at Market and Broad. To the east is Independence Hall, where Americans in the 1780s drew up the nation’s Constitution, and not far away are the restored townhouses of Society Hill. Philadelphia is built on a certain order. Other American colonies were settled by practical men, out to make money or replicate a farm settlement back home. But Penn was a Quaker, a member of one of the 17th century sects that prized reason, and he imposed order on his new environment: no cow-path street patterns here, like those in Boston or Charleston, but a grid of numbered and named streets, with precisely spaced open squares. Penn’s city of brotherly love grew to be a commercial and industrial metropolis that spread out over the countryside until Philadelphia was the young nation’s largest city. Today, the old colonial-era structures are interspersed with architect I.M. Pei’s modernist Society Hill Towers, and with the masonry-faced skyscrapers of the 1920 and glass-and-steel versions of recent decades.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
For all the grandeur of its City Hall, Philadelphia has seldom had a city government to be proud of. “Corrupt beyond redemption” is how journalist Lincoln Steffens described the city more than a century ago. Corruption and incompetence have reigned here off and on since then. While the city’s private economy grew robustly in the 1980s, the city government lurched toward bankruptcy under Democratic Mayor Wilson Goode. Then in 1991, Democrat Ed Rendell was elected mayor, and did well enough to become in 2002 the first former Philadelphia mayor to be elected governor since 1906. Unfortunately, Rendell’s push for reform stalled in the mid-1990s. Philadelphia still has an inordinately expensive city government. And it has neighborhoods ravaged by crime that have emptied out over the years. But there are signs of hope. Philadelphia has some of the nation’s most vibrant and socially active churches. Center City remains attractive to young professionals, a growing number with families, and the population there increased 11% from 2000 to 2007. The metropolitan area is fifth largest in the country.
The 1st Congressional District of Pennsylvania contains much of Philadelphia east of Broad Street and all of 18th century Philadelphia: Independence Hall, the U.S. Mint, and Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continually occupied residential block in the country. It also takes in Chinatown, Society Hill, Overbrook, the Northern Liberties village, and Penn’s Landing, and Philadelphia’s four-square-block convention center, the largest in the Northeast. North of Center City, the district includes much of heavily black North Philadelphia, a couple of wards of Northeast Philadelphia (connected to the rest by irregular boundaries), and Kensington and its closely packed 19th century homes, where descendants of Irish and Italian immigrants lived for years in tiny frame houses that are increasingly occupied by Hispanic immigrants. The 1st includes once-heavily Italian South Philadelphia, where families and their small stores and restaurants have been pressed tightly into narrow streets. The Rocky movies were filmed there and the Philadelphia cheese steak originated there. Nearby, the district takes in the city’s stadium and arena complex. The 1st continues along the Delaware River shore southwest into Delaware County to impoverished Chester. And it takes in three wards in heavily black West Philadelphia and a few small adjacent suburbs. The population of the minority-majority district in 2007 was 48% African-American and 17% Hispanic (mainly Puerto Rican), the highest of any Pennsylvania district. Despite growth in Center City, the district’s population overall fell 2% since 2000, and Philadelphia itself has lost 30% since 1950. This is a heavily Democratic district that gave the party’s 2008 nominee, Barack Obama, 88% of the vote.