September 29, 2021
Voting rights advocates are pushing for a new majority-Black Senate district in Boston and as many as nine new majority-minority districts in the House as part of a plan to increase the political clout of communities of color on Beacon Hill.
A coalition of voting rights groups proposed new district maps for the Legislature on Tuesday that would increase the number of districts where people of color represent the majority of the population by 13, adding majority-minority seats in cities like Everett, Framingham, Malden, New Bedford, Randolph and Revere where historically there have never been elected officials of color.
The maps produced by the Drawing Democracy Coalition would force incumbents in two House districts to run against each other, while Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn would most likely find himself in a district with whoever wins the special election to replace former Winthrop Sen. Joseph Boncore.
"Today, with these maps, we aim to push back against inequity," said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, the executive director of MassVOTE.
The Joint Committee on Redistricting, co-chaired by Rep. Michael Moran and Sen. William Brownsberger, is leading the legislative effort this fall to redraw state and federal political boundaries based on the 2020 Census, which saw the state's population climb 7.4 percent to more than 7 million people over the past decade and grow more diverse.
New maps for both the Legislature and Congressional districts are expected this fall, and must be approved by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker before they take effect for the 2022 state elections.
Moran and Brownsberger could not be reached for comment on the Drawing Democracy Coalition maps, but both have said maximizing the number of majority-minority districts that can be drawn will be a priority.
"We anticipate having many more thoughtful conversations with both leaders of the State House. Today we're putting forward our vision for equity and we see that as an important starting place,' said Beth Huang, director of the Massachusetts Voter Table.
The proposed House map would increase the number of majority-minority districts from 20 to 29, including five that are majority-Latinx and six that are majority Black.
While the creation of majority-minority districts alone has not always succeeded in diversifying the ranks of the Legislature, activists said 27 of their proposed majority-minority districts are based on voting age population and 16 are based on citizen voting age population.
On the Senate side, the Drawing Democracy Coalition has proposed to create a majority-Black district in Boston and increase the number of majority-minority districts from three to seven. The four new majority-minority districts would be anchored by minority populations in Lawrence and Methuen, Chelsea and Everett, East Boston and Lynn, and Brockton and Randolph.
The Senate currently has no Black members.
Crawford said the majority-Black Senate district in Boston would be centered in Dorchester, while the neighborhoods of Chinatown, Roxbury, West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain would be grouped to create a new majority-minority voting age population district.
Crawford said inequities in the city have "leaked into the political process."
"These would strengthen the political power of Boston's Black and Asian populations, as well as East Boston, Revere and Lynn's substantial Latino populations," she said.
Crighton would see his North Shore-based district extend south toward Boston, under the proposal, capturing the communities of East Boston and Revere. Two Democrats - one from Revere and one from East Boston - are currently running to succeed Boncore in a special election scheduled for January, but would see the district change substantially in 2022 if this plan were adopted.
The maps would also force Reps. Smitty Pignatelli and Paul Mark to run against each other in a reconfigured House district in the Berkshires, and Republican Rep. Donald Wong of Saugus and Rep. Jessica Ann Giannino of Revere would be in the same district.
In the House, the map proposes to create five majority Black districts in Boston neighborhoods like Upham's Corner and Grove Hall and three majority-minority districts in South Boston, Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill.
William Dickerson, executive director of Brockton Interfaith Community, said the minority populations in Brockton have little in common with those who live in many of the cities and towns that surround the city and play a major role in deciding who represents the city on Beacon Hill.
Sen. Michael Brady, of Brockton, currently represents the city in the Senate, along with parts of East Bridgewater, Halifax, Hanover, Hanson, Plympton, Whitman and Easton.
The proposed map would unite Brockton with Randolph and Stoughton, where there are larger Black and other minority populations that Dickerson said engage with each other more frequently. "By uniting these communities, we can better ensure they have an advocate in the State House who listens to and prioritizes their needs," Dickerson said.
Dax Crocker, an organizer with the Coalition for Social Justice, said New Bedford is another city that would be reconfigured to give its immigrant communities more of a voice in the political process.
One majority-minority district would be created along its eastern waterfront that reclaims precincts currently carved off into a district represented by Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett that also covers wealthier enclaves like Marion, Fairhaven and Rochester.
The incumbent that would have to run in the new district would be Rep. Christopher Hendricks, who Crocker said "will not be able to win without the support of people of color." The map would also change Rep. Antonio Cabral's district, making it a "minority-influence" district that includes three precincts currently shared by a district that includes Dartmouth.
"We just love seeing how these two districts will now represent most people of color in New Bedford," Crocker said.
Gladys Vega, of the Chelsea Collaborative, said that in addition to uniting Lynn with Revere and East Boston in one Senate district, the proposed map would create an incumbent free majority-minority House district by separating Chelsea from Charlestown, and combining the neighborhoods of Charlestown and the West End, instead.
The proposal also calls for a new majority-minority voting age population district in the Senate that would be created by keeping Chelsea, Everett, Charlestown and Cambridge grouped together.
Sen. Sal DIDomenico already represents much of those four cities, but with the population growth over the last decade the Everett Democrat would see his district become more compact, losing the West End of Boston and the neighborhoods of Allston and Brighton.
"With these changes, we will gain legislative power," Vega said.