Advocates want minority-focused seats in Congress

With Massachusetts poised to lose one of its ten seats in Congress, a pair of minority-focused coalitions offered up their proposals this week to the special legislative committee charged with the task of subtraction.

One of the coalitions took an extra step and also presented maps for redrawn state Senate and House districts, promoting their plan as more than doubling the number of minority-majority districts, from 10 to 22.

The proposals of the Black Empowerment Coalition, co-chaired by Kevin Peterson, boot U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano from his current seat in the Eighth Congressional District, which includes Mattapan and part of Dorchester.

“We don’t necessarily draw him out. We looked for opportunities to create a denser majority-minority seat that extended into Boston” but reached south into Randolph and Brockton, which have minority populations, Peterson said. The seat would also go north, into Cambridge and include Chelsea and Everett.

The proposals from his group, and those of a group with similar aims, the Drawing Democracy coalition, were released at back-to-back press conferences on Monday, hours before state lawmakers on a 28-member special committee tasked with redrawing the state’s district boundaries held a public hearing at the State House.

The 28-member redistricting committee, made up of state lawmakers across the state, is chaired by state Rep. Michael Moran (D-Brighton) and state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst). Due to the inability of the Bay State’s population to keep up with growth elsewhere in the U.S., the committee will be forced to revamp the state’s political landscape.

A plan pushed by Peterson’s group would also shift state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz out of Dorchester and Roxbury, setting up a “progressive” district that includes Brookline, Boston’s South End, and Jamaica Plain, where Chang-Diaz lives.

That proposed move, which also pushes state Sen. Jack Hart’s district further up into Boston, would open up a state Senate district with a heavy population of minorities, according to Peterson. The new district, based in part on former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson’s district, would include Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park and Roslindale, he said.

Wilkerson was arrested – and eventually pled guilty to – bribery charges after losing the 2008 primary. Chang-Diaz, making her second run for Wilkerson’s seat, won the race that November after Wilkerson’s write-in campaign fizzled.

“It is the will of many of the community for that to revert back to its former status so that we elect again an African-American to the Senate,” Peterson said after briefing members of the State House’s Black and Latino Caucus about his group’s proposals.

His group is also pushing for Lawrence and Springfield to see majority-minority Senate seats.

Under his group’s proposal, Brockton, Chelsea, Lawrence, Lynn, Randolph, and Worcester would each see House seats that would have a majority-minority influence. Springfield would also have two majority-minority heavy House seats.

Peterson argued that disparities exist on Beacon Hill: Minorities make up 20 percent of state residents while holding five percent of the Legislature’s 200 seats.

Members of the Drawing Democracy coalition, which includes MassVOTE, the Boston Workers Alliance and the Mass. Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition, offered up two Congressional maps. They said they would release their state Senate and state House maps in August.

The Congressional maps differ, with one having the Eighth Congressional District heading north into Malden. The other map has the district dipping south into Randolph.

Drawing Democracy members said they did not draw the maps with “incumbency protection” in mind. In one map, U.S. Reps. Barney Frank (D-Newton) and Ed Markey (D-Malden) are pitted against each other, and in another, Capuano (D-Somerville) would run against Markey. In both maps, U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch (South Boston) and Bill Keating (D-Quincy) would also face each other. Keating is the least senior member of the delegation.

An attorney with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, which is part of the Drawing Democracy Coalition, said some of the face-offs under their plan could be avoided if one of the Congressmen moves to southeastern Massachusetts, into a more compact Fourth Congressional District.

The committee actually in charge of redrawing the maps hasn’t started to do so yet, with members instead still at the information-gathering stage. Their maps are expected to be released in the fall, and if nobody in the Massachusetts Congressional delegation runs for another office or steps down, a face-off is expected amidst the shrinkage of 10 seats to nine.

“No member of this committee is looking forward to drawing nine districts,” Moran, the Brighton state representative, said.

Moran said he welcomed the proposed maps from outside groups. “It forces us to look at a possibility,” he said.

Chang-Diaz, who said she would take a closer look at the maps submitted by the two coalitions, is the vice chair of the Senate side of the committee.

State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, a Dorchester Democrat, and Rep. Byron Rushing, a Roxbury Democrat, are also members of the joint committee. Rep. Forry is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.