With at-large Councillor Ruthzee Louijeune at the helm, the City Council seems close to a consensus on approving new boundaries of its nine district seats.
Louijeune, the chair of the Civil Rights Committee who is presiding over the redistricting process, has in the last week held multiple meetings of her panel as she and others raced to meet election-driven deadlines in response to a federal judge’s order that the council draw up a new map to replace what she deemed a flawed version that it approved last fall.
For all the stated urgency, councillors continue to battle over which precincts go where, including in Mattapan and Roslindale.
LINK: The latest map
Redistricting, as the once-a-decade process is known, is a complicated exercise involving multiple considerations – from keeping each of the nine districts balanced in population, to ensuring that communities of interest are kept together, to enabling communities of color with opportunities to seat candidates of their choice. Incumbent protection is another factor.
Race stands at the center of the lawsuit before Judge Patti Saris. The plaintiffs – a group of residents backed by four councillors – District 2’s Ed Flynn (South Boston), District 3’s Frank Baker (Dorchester) and At-Large Councillors Michael Flaherty and Erin Murphy – alleged that the shift of several conservative white precincts to District 4 last fall diluted their influence and attempted to block the map.
Under the law, race can be an integral part of redistricting discussions, but it cannot be the predominant factor. Saris’s ruling two weeks ago that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed set off a scramble to get a new map done by May 30.
Mayor Wu has said that if councillors blow past that deadline, they could negatively affect the timing of the Sept. 12 preliminary and the Nov. 7 general election. “We are days away from having to make some very unfortunate decisions that we’re hoping to avoid, such as potentially needing to push back the election date or make the tradeoff between the availability of early in-person voting and potentially not having that,” she told reporters last Friday.
On Friday and again on Monday, Louijeune moved quickly through several maps on the table, including one from the mayor, before discarding them in favor of her own, which she then modified after receiving input from the other councillors and public testimony over several hours.
Her map keeps Ward 16 entirely within District 3, as suggested in the judge’s order, and unites the “Little Saigon” area in Fields Corner. With Ward 16’s Precincts 1 and 3 in District 3, instead of their current home in District 4, according to Baker, the seat could eventually draw in a Vietnamese or Asian candidate who could win election to the council.
The Dorchester councillor, who bitterly opposed last fall’s map because it carved up Dorchester’s Adams Village and Cedar Grove, said he was comfortable with Louijeune’s map, noting that it enables him to keep Dorchester Avenue as a key part of the district. Baker, who isn’t running for reelection, also wants to keep Ward 17, Precinct 13 (half of Lower Mills) in District 3, for that same reason. The precinct is home to Marty Walsh, the former mayor and US labor secretary who is Baker’s childhood friend.
The map also takes District 3 up to the Whole Foods store in the South End’s Ink Block building, its name a nod to the former headquarters of the Boston Herald.
For all that, removing the two Fields Corner precincts from District 4 will have a ripple effect, according to its freshman councillor, Brian Worrell. He pressed for Ward 14, Precinct 14 and Ward 14, Precinct 5 to be pulled in from District 5, which is represented by Ricardo Arroyo. Louijeune said that made sense, since Precinct 14 had previously been in District 4 before getting moved to District 5 in the 2012 redistricting cycle.
Arroyo has pushed back against the move, pointing to his district having 70 percent of Mattapan. Putting more Mattapan precincts into District 4, which is primarily a Dorchester seat, would dilute Mattapan’s voting power in both District 4 and District 5 (a Hyde Park and Mattapan seat), he argued, adding that Mayor Thomas Menino rejected a map in 2012 because of concerns about such a dilution.
Arroyo and District 6 Councillor Kendra Lara (Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury) have also lobbied for Ward 20, Precinct 8 to move into District 6 from District 5. They said such a move would unite West Roxbury within District 6, but Precinct 8 is in Roslindale. Arroyo lost the vote there last year, when Kevin Hayden, who lives in the precinct, defeated him in the Suffolk district attorney race.
Arroyo, who is expected to face at least two challengers for the District 5 seat this fall, won the Mattapan precincts in that race. He pushed back on the idea that self-preservation was a factor in his stance on the map issue. “It’s not about me, but it’s about a map that’s going to last a decade,” he said.
But state Rep. Russell Holmes, an Arroyo supporter, said he’s been through multiple redistricting cycles at the State House, and jettisoning an unfavorable precinct “sounds like a good reason” to him. “I say when this happens, when there’s an area that does not vote heavily for me, then moving them to an area that would be more in alignment with them, I don’t see why that’s a problem,” he said. “It would strengthen me, but it would also have a community potentially more in alignment with their values.”
Holmes, who lives in Ward 14, Precinct 14 and wants to stay in District 5, added that the issue goes beyond Arroyo. He wants Mattapan to have a “strong influence” in the district, he said.
Others also oppose these changes while remaining frustrated by the complexities of redistricting and the fast pace of the latest deliberations.
“There are so many people who really are waiting for a greater understanding of what we should be looking for, how do we approach it,” said Fatima Ali-Salaam, chair of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council.
In just the last two weeks, councillors have gone from zero maps in front of them to four maps, and back to one – from Louijeune, who has modified it with changes suggested by other councillors that get them closer to a majority approval. “It’s a lot to take in,” Ali-Salaam said.