The Boston City Council finally emerged last week with a racially balanced and legally defensible redistricting map after 17 months of bickering over the lines of Boston’s nine council districts. The result is as satisfactory as one might hope, given the pressure on incumbents to protect their political bases.
Two councilors deserve special credit for their willingness to put the good of the city ahead of political self-preservation. District 5 city councilor Rob Consalvo, who is white, relinquished supportive precincts in Roslindale and adopted minority precincts in Mattapan to solidify a fourth minority district in the city. First-term councilor Frank Baker sacrificed several supportive precincts in the Lower Mills and Fields Corner sections of Dorchester to balance population figures in a nearby district.
Redistricting is rooted in federal constitutional principles and judicial decisions governing voting rights. It sheds sharp light on a city’s race relations and political culture. While there were moments of doubt about the quality of both in Boston, the final map redounded to the city’s credit.
Eager to avoid perceptions of racial divisiveness, 11 of the 13 councilors (including three of the four minority councilors) voted for the compromise map. City councilor Bill Linehan, chair of the redistricting committee, resisted efforts along the way that might weaken his white, conservative base in South Boston. He couldn’t bring himself to vote for the compromise. But at the end of the day, even Linehan proved himself a conciliator by releasing his bloc of votes in the interest of citywide solidarity.