A coalition representing African-American, Hispanic, and Asian voters presented Boston’s City Council with two redistricting maps Friday designed to boost the citywide electoral influence of communities of color.
The plans from the Communities of Color Coalition on Redistricting would address objections voiced by Mayor Thomas M. Menino when he vetoed two earlier redistricting maps approved by the City Council. Menino complained that by redrawing the District 4 boundaries so that 95 percent of voters would be people of color, the council was diluting their power citywide.
During a sometimes contentious 2½-hour meeting, coalition members voiced their desire to avoid “packing and cracking”: creating districts that excessively concentrate voters from a legally protected minority group or splitting minority neighborhoods into more than one district so their influence would be lessened.
“We have before us both the legal question, and we have the political and moral questions,” said Lydia Lowe, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association. “Are we reasonably trying to level the playing field?”
The council has a deadline of Nov. 5 to approve a redistricting plan and have it signed by Menino.
A new plan must be in place one year before the 2013 city elections because council candidates must live in their districts for at least one year to be eligible.
If the new districts are not designated by Nov. 5, the city could be sued in federal court and could lose the chance to determine district boundaries, warned a lawyer hired to advise Menino in the redistricting process.
“A federal judge could draw any type of map that he or she thinks is appropriate,” said the lawyer, Steven Perlmutter, a specialist on redistricting and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Perlmutter said a court will not necessarily declare as illegal a district dominated by voters of color if that district provides a protected group an opportunity to elect a candidate of its choice.
But when questioned by councilors about how to proceed, Perlmutter repeatedly pointed to Menino’s concerns about packing voters of color in District 4, which includes parts of Dorchester and Mattapan.
One of the coalition’s maps would shift the wedge of Dorchester known as the Polish Triangle from District 2 to District 3. It would realign District 3 to cover North Dorchester and District 4 to include South Dorchester and Mattapan.
The other map presented by the Communities of Color Coalition would move the Polish Triangle but otherwise leave District 3 much the same. It would move a swath of Roslindale from District 5 into District 4 and extend District 5 east through Mattapan.
Lowe said shifting the mostly white Polish Triangle would reduce an imbalance of power between white and nonwhite voters in District 2, which includes Chinatown, the South End, and South Boston.
District 5 Councilor Robert Consalvo, who represents Hyde Park and parts of Mattapan and Roslindale, said he would oppose any plan that further divides Roslindale, which he said has fought 30 years for fair electoral representation at the city and state level.
“Your second map totally eviscerates Roslindale,” he told the coalition.
Coalition members said their maps were a compromise between what they believe is fairest to voters and their perception that the City Council would not accept maps that endangered sitting councilors.
Councilor Charles C. Yancey, who represents District 4, was the sole City Council member opposing both previous plans. Yancey has put forth his own map, which he said would shift the balance by assuring that five of the city’s nine districts contain a majority of voters of color — there are only four such districts in the coalition’s plans — and more fairly reflect Boston’s increasing diversity.
Yancey said the coalition should be asking for more.
“Why is the coalition fighting for five solidly white districts when whites are no longer a majority in Boston?” Yancey asked.
Yancey said Mattapan, split into two districts during redistricting a decade ago, should be made whole again, and he pledged to vote against any proposal that does not respect Mattapan voters.
Determining new districts is complicated by councilors’ desire to respect the boundaries of neighborhoods.
Councilor Stephen J. Murphy promised that a plan would be decided well in advance of the November deadline. “You have a commitment from me as president of the City Council … that we will make sure the time clock is not something we will butt up against,” Murphy said.Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.