Janet Diaz (Source: Provided)
Janet Diaz (Source: Provided)

City Councilwoman Janet Diaz officially entered the Democratic primary race for the proposed 50th state House district this past weekend, saying her supporters could make her the first Latina ever elected to the chamber.

"I'm proud to be a fighter for our Lancaster community," she said, pledging to exert herself for those who are struggling to make rent and feed their families.

Ismail Smith-Wade-El

Diaz would face City Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El in the district. Diaz and Smith-Wade-El both won re-election to the council last year and are beginning their second terms.

The 50th District is one of the two that apportion Lancaster city's voters in the draft state House map under consideration by the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission

Currently, the city sits entirely within the 96th District. The proposed map roughly bisects the city, with the 50th district covering the south side and extending to Millersville, and the 96th District covers the north side and extends into the north suburbs, including Neffsville and East Petersburg.

Diaz,55, is a stroke registrar at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. Besides her City Council races, she ran in the 13th state Senate district in 2020. She prevailed against then-County Commissioner Craig Lehman in the Democratic primary but came up short in the general election against Republican incumbent Scott Martin, who secured his second term. (Martin is now running for governor.)

During her virtual campaign launch, livestreamed from the Candy Factory, a half dozen elected officials and advocates spoke in her support, including state Rep. Mike Sturla, the current 96th District representative, who said Diaz works "as hard as anyone I know."

Other endorsements came from Sen. Sharif Street of Philadelphia, vice-chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee; state Rep. Manuel Guzman of Reading; Isamac Torres-Figueroa, co-founder of the state Democratic Latino Caucus; and Rebecca McNichol, executive director of Emerge Pennsylvania, a training program for Democratic women candidates.

Smith-Wade-El, a program specialist for the Lanc Co MyHome homeless coalition, declared his candidacy before the redrawn maps were released and had initially expected to face Sturla. He told LNP he welcomes Diaz to the race.

At left: proposed state House District 96; state Rep. Mike Sturla and Dana Hamp Gulick. At right: Proposed state House District 50, City Councilwoman Janet Diaz, City Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El. Click to enlarge. (Source (maps): Spotlight PA, Votebeat)

Sturla has represented the 96th District since 1991. He told One United Lancaster he plans to announce his candidacy for re-election soon. Campaign ads for him have popped up on Facebook this week and he has a campaign website under construction.

In the primary, he will face challenger Dana Hamp Gulick, who is launching her campaign Sunday.

Hamp Gulick, 49, a marketing professional, has run unsuccessfully twice against Republican state Rep. Steve Mentzer. She told LNP newspaper her lived experience will make her an effective advocate for everyday Lancastrians.

Redistricting still in process

Meanwhile, the contours of the districts have yet to be finalized. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission is holding public hearings on the proposed state House and Senate maps today and Saturday. After that, the commission has 30 days to make any edits to the maps and approve final versions.

In his comments endorsing Diaz, Sturla said the division of Lancaster city into two Democratic-leaning districts is part of statewide process that will unwind decades of Republican gerrymandering.

Among other things, he said, Hispanics will have a chance to increase their state House representation. Based on their share of total population, Hispanics should have around 14 House seats, Sturla said: He put the actual number at five, including two individuals with partial Latino backgrounds.

Lancaster city is about 40% Hispanic, with households concentrated on the south side; the percentage in the proposed 50th District would be a few points lower.

Advocates contend the maps should do more to bolster electoral opportunities for Latinos, the state's fastest growing ethnicity. In particular, they criticized district splits in Allentown and Bethlehem.

Republicans have criticized the maps as Democratic gerrymanders — unjustifiably, according to advocates for minority groups and the chairman of the reapportionment commission — and the matter is widely expected to end up in court.

Tim Stuhldreher