The Boston City Council came to consensus last month on a revised map that makes minor changes to the nine district seats that constitute the majority of the council’s membership. There are also four at-large councillors elected to the 13-member body who are not subject to the district boundaries and are chosen by the citywide electorate. District seats were created in 1983 – in part to give candidates of color a better opportunity to win elections in a city that was far more segregated at the time.
The redistricting process, which is triggered by the decennial census and the need to balance out the number of people in each district, has never been an easy task, but this latest cycle proved to be the most difficult and divisive in recent memory.
The original district map passed last fall was challenged in federal court by plaintiffs who argued that race was too much of a factor in the changes made, particularly in the case of Dorchester’s District 3. In April, federal Judge Patti Saris ruled that their argument had enough merit to potentially win the day and ordered the council to go back to the drawing board.
Managing that task fell to at-Large Councillor Ruthzee Louijeune, who by all accounts did an excellent job in setting the re-boot of the redistricting process under some intense scrutiny and time pressure. Her colleagues voted 10-2 to support the map that Louijeune shepherded to the fore. Mayor Wu signed off on it last week, which means there should be no further concerns about potential delays to the preliminary election on Sept. 12 or the general on Nov. 7.
And yet, despite the breakthrough and signals from the plaintiffs that they are “largely pleased” with the outcome, there are signals from both sides of the divide that there could be further legal challenges mounted. That would be most unfortunate.
During the debate about re-working the district lines, there has been far too much made of the notion of “dividing” neighborhoods. There are 23 neighborhoods in the city of Boston, according to the Mayor’s Office. There are nine district seats. There really is no practical way to keep most neighborhoods intact within one district, nor should that even be a priority. Dorchester was a town before it was annexed into Boston in 1870, so its historic boundaries are well established. It’s far too big to fit into one council district. The Dorchester neighborhood is currently represented by three district councillors: Frank Baker, Brian Worrell, and Tania Fernandes Anderson. Erin Murphy and Julia Mejia, who serve at-large, live in Dorchester as well.
It’s time for the council to get re-focused on the many other pressing matters on its agenda – from giving oversight to the city budget to the mayor’s proposal to move the O’Bryant High School from Roxbury to West Roxbury. Let’s move on.