As redistricting looms, Pressley’s district is in the spotlight

Change is coming to Ayanna Pressley’s majority-minority Congressional district, less than three years after she beat out Michael Capuano for the seat to become the first Black woman sent to Capitol Hill by Massachusetts voters.

What that change will look like is up to lawmakers at the State House, who by law must redraw the lines of Congressional districts, as well as state House and Senate districts, following every decennial US Census.

The legislators are tasked with ensuring that districts are equally sized in population, a politically fraught exercise with multiple competing interests, from incumbents to local activists.

The special committee set up to work on the new boundaries met virtually on Monday to take testimony on the Massachusetts 7th, which Pressley has represented since January 2019. The district stretches from Everett down to Randolph, and includes Mattapan, Cambridge, Somerville, Chelsea, and roughly half of Dorchester. Stephen Lynch of South Boston represents the Boston-based Congressional district that includes Dorchester’s eastern half.

In her testimony on Monday, Pressley, a Dorchester Democrat, asked the lawmakers to keep “municipalities whole when possible,” saying, “I know that every constituent, every municipality in this district has made me a more effective advocate in Congress and I would hate to lose the privilege of representing any of them.”

Pressley did not submit a proposed map for the lawmakers to use, and her office said she does not plan to offer one.

But others, including voting activists and elected officials, likely will. US Census data, which are expected to be released next month, will play a role in adding granular detail on demographics that lawmakers will use as they attempt to craft the final maps ahead of the 2022 elections.

According to preliminary data, the state’s population rose to over 7 million, up from 6.5 million in 2010, meaning each district will have new boundaries to ensure they have an equal number of people. US Census officials have been late in delivering data, in part due to the pandemic.

Boston Councillor At-Large Julia Mejia asked state lawmakers on Monday to keep Boston’s representation to two members of Congress, rather than dividing the city into multiple districts.

Several voting rights activists chose to focus on the Second Suffolk state Senate seat, which is within Pressley’s Congressional district. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, currently holds the seat, but there’ll be a vacancy in 2022 when she’ll be running for governor per her recent announcement.

The seat was previously held by Dianne Wilkerson of Roxbury.

Kevin Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition, said his group is developing a plan to create a state Senate map that will allow for a Black person to return to the upper chamber. The state Senate has been without a Black member since Linda Dorcena Forry left for a job at Suffolk Construction in 2018.

Some community leaders are pressing for an “incumbent-free” state Senate district that could lead to a Black person getting elected, as well as two or three additional districts wherein people of color can wield greater influence, according to Peterson. 

Beth Huang, a member of the Drawing Democracy Coalition, a separate group, pressed to return Chinatown to communities of color in the South End and Roxbury, rather than its current placement within the district of state Sen. Joe Boncore, which includes Revere and East Boston.

She also alluded to Boncore’s expected departure from the Senate for a job at MassBIO, a trade group for the state’s biotechnology industry, and noted that the move, like Chang-Diaz’s bid for governor, makes it easier for lawmakers to redraw lines without taking into consideration the concerns of incumbents.

State Sen. William Brownsberger, co-chair of the special redistricting committee, cautioned that “people will have to see how the districts shape up before they make their plans to run.”

The other co-chair of the redistricting committee, Rep. Michael Moran of Brighton, noted that rapid population growth, particularly in Cambridge and Somerville, is likely to cause Pressley’s Congressional district to shed voters. “You’re going to see changes there,” he said as the committee seeks to balance equity and social arguments with others.

With Mattapan and other similar areas, the committee will seek to do “as little harm as possible to the fabric” of the community and “try to keep that fabric whole as much as possible,” he said.

Moran, who also co-chaired efforts to redraw the boundaries a decade ago, proudly noted that the map they drew then did not lead to a litany of lawsuits, unlike what happened in most other states.

At the outset of the hearing, Moran emphasized that he wanted to hear the input from various community groups and leaders so that the committee can create “fair” districts. “We want to see your fingerprints on these maps,” he said.

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