Redistricting chair: Dot House seats need to expand borders

By Matt Murphy, State House News Service
Aug. 15, 2011

Four Boston-based House districts with predominant minority populations will need their boundaries redrawn to capture additional residents and meet new population requirements, the House’s redistricting chief said on Monday.

Rep. Michael Moran, chair of the House Redistricting Committee, told the News Service that maintaining the majority-minority status of districts held currently by Reps. Martin Walsh (D-Dorchester), Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester), Carlos Henriquez (D-Dorchester), and Russell Holmes (D-Mattapan) is an important priority as the committee works to finalize a redistricting plan this fall.

“Holmes, Forry, Henriquez, and Walsh all need to pick up population and in some cases a lot of population, so that’s something we’re trying to work through,” said Moran.

The Brighton Democrat said he began a second round of sit-down meetings Monday with all 160 members of the House of Representatives, fulfilling a commitment he made at the outset of the redistricting process to meet with each member of the House at least twice before presenting final maps.

He said the committee has also found “a little problem” with having the 2010 Census block population counts match up with the recently approved precinct lines in cities and towns. The precincts, in most cases, will be used as the building blocks for House, Senate, and Congressional districts, but Moran said there may be some deviation. In some cases, he said, the committee is eyeing the formation of new districts to address shifting populations.

“We’re being very careful to make sure our numbers are correct,” he said.

Late last month the Local Election District Review Commission, made up of Secretary of State William Galvin and representatives from the governor’s and attorney general’s offices, approved the local precinct plans and forwarded them to legislative mapmakers.

Galvin’s office on Monday declined to provide the News Service with a copy of the precinct plans, citing ongoing “administrative matters” that the commission has not completed.

Based on the 2010 Census, which counted a statewide population of 6.55 million residents, Massachusetts will have 2,151 precincts in 2012 with an average of 3,043 residents per precinct. Each House district will have roughly 40,900 residents.

Of the 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth, 27 are gaining precincts, 17 are losing precincts, 307 will keep the same number, and 27 communities did not have to change their precinct boundaries.

Rep. Walsh said he disagrees with the Census count that says Dorchester lost residents over the last ten years, but acknowledges there is little that can be done to contest the findings. He is optimistic about keeping the districts’ status as majority-minority, he said. “There’s clearly a will and a way to do that.”

Walsh, who has served in the seat since 1997, noted that during the last redistricting effort he picked up between 6,000 and 7,000 new voters. “When you pick up new areas, I find it exciting because you get a chance to meet a whole bunch of new people,” Walsh said. “I look at it as an opportunity, not as a problem.”

Rep. Henriquez said the loss in population was likely because young families face a school lottery system that they may not fare well in. “I think it has to do with homes and schools,” he said. “A lot of the young parents that you’ll talk to in the city are always concerned about those two things.”

Moran said the committee is working to produce final maps by September or October.

According to Moran, the Dorchester-based districts represented by Walsh, Forry, and Henriquez need to gain at least 2,000 residents each through redistricting to address faster population growth in other neighborhoods. Henriquez’s district will need to add approximately 2,000 people, Forry’s an additional 2,500, and Walsh’s 3,500. Rep. Holmes’s district will also have to pick up approximately 2,500 residents, Moran said.

Rep. Holmes said he was surprised by the population loss, given housing developments that are flourishing. And as important it is to maintain majority-minority status for the Dorchester and Mattapan seats, he said, increasing the representation of people of color on Beacon Hill is also key.

“That’s a big concern for everyone, everyone’s pushing for that,” said Rep. Forry, who represents Boston and a slice of Milton. An added wrinkle for her district is that Milton redrew its precinct lines and lost a precinct, while Boston officials passed on redrawing theirs. “My district has shifted a little bit,” said Forry, who is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry and sits on the redistricting committee.

Expanding districts will require siphoning off population from areas of the city represented by other lawmakers, making the process a complicated give and take, Moran said.

Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, a North End Democrat, represents a district that must lose roughly 4,000 residents, while Rep. Gloria Fox (D-Roxbury) also represents a district where more rapid growth over the past decade requires downsizing by roughly 2,000 people.

“You have to get some population from somewhere, and it keeps going until you get somewhere where you have excess population,” Moran said.

The latest Census showed Massachusetts grew in population by just 3.1 percent since 2000, causing the state to lose one of its 10 congressional seats.

“On the congressional map, it’s still an open season,” Moran said.

Reporter news editor Gintautas Dumcius contributed to this report.