Redistricting redux: Council approves second map on 7-6 vote

Nearly two weeks after Mayor Thomas Menino sent them back to the drawing board, the City Council on Wednesday voted 7 to 6 in favor a map crafted by City Councillors Tito Jackson and Matt O’Malley and aimed at redrawing the boundaries of council’s 9 district seats.

The move appeared to surprise several councillors, including District 5 Councillor Rob Consalvo. Consalvo, who voted against the map, and City Councillor At-Large John Connolly, who would end up voting for the Jackson-O’Malley map, both noted that a redistricting committee meeting was scheduled for Thursday afternoon, and that more legal analysis was needed.

Voting for the map, aside from District 7 Councillor Jackson and District 6 Councillor O’Malley, according to the City Council President’s office: City Councillors At-Large Connolly, Felix Arroyo, and Ayanna Pressley. District 3 Councillor Frank Baker and District 8 Councillor Michael Ross joined the majority.

Councillor Bill Linehan, chair of the council’s redistricting committee, voted against the map. He said the Jackson-O’Malley map was essentially the same as his map, which passed the council but was vetoed by Menino. The mayor, in his veto message, cited the high concentration of people of color in District 4.

“It’s almost exactly the same [map],” Linehan said.

Charles Yancey, the District 4 councillor, voted against the Jackson-O’Malley map, saying it did not unite Mattapan. He had also voted against Linehan’s map, citing the same reason.

Redistricting activists held their own gathering in Roxbury’s Hibernian Hall on Tuesday night. Voting rights group MassVOTE is part of a coalition is pushing its own plans to redraw the boundaries and threatening a lawsuit if a map approved by City Hall is passed in violation of federal voting laws.

The council is charged with redrawing the boundaries every ten years, after Census figures are released, to account for population shifts.

Menino earlier this month vetoed a plan that narrowly passed the council, 7-6. Pointing to District 4, which includes Dorchester and Mattapan, Menino said “the plan concentrates our many citizens of color into too few districts, and in doing so may limit their equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”

In a letter dated Sept. 12 and aimed at responding to Menino’s veto, Linehan defended the vetoed map, but said his committee would schedule a meeting to move ahead with a new plan. Members of the Coalition of Color and the city’s corporation counsel would be invited to attend, Linehan wrote.

More meetings may be held in neighborhoods that have not hosted previous committee meetings, he added.

A meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon was cancelled after Wednesday's 7-6 vote.

In his letter, Linehan said he is aiming for approval of a new plan by Nov. 1, adding that he will “enthusiastically work with members of your administration” to create the map while at the same time noting
that the vetoed map the redistricting committee had spent 16 months crafting was a “good and fair plan for all of Boston.”

“Many of the concerns you outlined in your veto response were investigated and vetted in public forums,” Linehan wrote. “Although the vote of approval from the Council was close, it is in no way indicative of a lack of cooperation and participation by all members. In the end, we each voted our conscience, influenced by our political beliefs.”

Tensions continue to persist between Linehan and the coalition. On Tuesday night, Lydia Lowe, head of the Chinese Progressive Association and a supporter of Linehan’s opponent in the last election, told the crowd at Hibernian Hall that Linehan declined to attend their meeting, because his attendance could be a violation of the Open Meeting Law. The reasoning drew audible snorts of derision from the audience of 66 people.

But other councillors attended the meeting, including City Councillor At-Large Pressley, District 4 Councillor Yancey, and District 7 Councillor Jackson.

District 6 Councillor O’Malley also attended, the lone councillor to do so among the seven who voted in favor of the vetoed map.

“We have a month and a week to get this right,” O’Malley said, referring to the deadline for the council to wrap up redistricting a full year before the 2013 election. The new district lines must be in place a year before in order to let any potential candidates move into a new district.

At the Roxbury forum, Jackson touted his map, which would move Uphams Corner to District 3, a Dorchester-centered district represented by Councillor Frank Baker.

The committee chair – Linehan – is in control of what new maps get introduced, but only three votes are needed to pull an already submitted map out of the committee, Jackson noted. To pass the full 13-member council, a map would need seven votes; nine votes to make it be veto-proof.

The two maps supported by the coalition remain long shots, particularly since both slice and dice Dorchester and Mattapan. But activists noted that both of their maps avoid forcing incumbents into the same district while largely attempting to keep most neighborhoods whole.