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City Council redistricting map must protect neighborhood cohesion

THE BOSTON City Council is reasonably close to agreement on a new, nine-district electoral map that conforms with growth and shifts in population over the last decade. But there are still some raw spots that need attention before they develop into major wounds.

For a redistricting plan to succeed, it needs to take account of communities of interest — ethnic groups, language groups, and economic classes — so that people with common concerns aren’t packed into so few districts as to minimize their impact or scattered so evenly across districts that they have no influence in any. This isn’t an exact science. Sometimes, incumbency protection bumps up against neighborhood cohesiveness. If so, the latter should prevail.

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In Boston, there are two competing maps. The first, favored by Councilor Bill Linehan, spreads the difficulties that follow redistricting — such as wooing new voter groups — evenly among the incumbents. But it fractures communities of interest in Roxbury’s Mission Hill and Newmarket Square, and Uphams Corner in Dorchester. A second map, crafted by Councilors Tito Jackson and Matt O’Malley, protects those neighborhoods. Their map does, however, isolate Linehan somewhat from part of his traditional base in South Boston. And Linehan, who has spent long hours chairing the redistricting committee, isn’t amused — especially after winning reelection last fall by less than 100 votes.

The needs of the neighborhood are paramount. If councilors have to choose between the two maps, they should pick Jackson and O’Malley’s. But a compromise could be in the offing. Council President Stephen Murphy is pushing the redistricting committee, which meets today, to find a fair solution. The council has a lot of work on its hands, including budget hearings and changes to the school-assignment policy. A drawn-out redistricting battle serves no one’s interests, and the challenges are hardly insurmountable.

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