Boston City Council redistricting leaders on Monday proposed a new set of boundaries for council districts, an early but important milestone as the body races to meet an early November deadline.
Councilors Liz Breadon and Brian Worrell, the chair and vice chair of the redistricting committee, introduced a map that would reshuffle tens of thousands of voters among the city’s nine council districts. The proposal aims to unite some neighborhoods that are currently split into several districts and group communities of color to ensure they can realize their political power.
Four of Boston’s nine council districts are already so-called “opportunity” districts, meaning people of color make up the majority of the voting-age population and should have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidate. Breadon said the committee aimed to maintain and even strengthen those districts. In particular, the draft map seeks to make Dorchester-based District 3 more diverse by shifting some of its majority white precincts into a neighboring district.
“The City of Boston is a diverse city and should have a City Council that reflects individual identities and backgrounds,” Worrell said in a statement. “The people of Boston deserve City Council Districts that represent them, their unique values, and amplify their voices.”
In addition to its nine district councilors, Boston has four at-large councilors who represent the whole city and will not be directly impacted by the redistricting process.
Boston redraws its council districts every 10 years to roughly equalize the number of people represented by each councilor. The redistricting process can be both a logistical puzzle and a political morass, as elected officials bargain over the boundaries of their own political districts, seeking to keep pockets of supportive voters amid shifting district lines.
This year, the thorny process has been further complicated by a change in leadership of the redistricting committee. It was initially led by Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, but council President Ed Flynn stripped Arroyo of his leadership roles after years-old sexual assault allegations against Arroyo surfaced in the closing weeks of his campaign for Suffolk district attorney.
Arroyo has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and he was not charged with a crime. He lost the Sept. 6 Democratic primary for Suffolk district attorney to Kevin Hayden.
Arroyo, along with Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, proposed his own version of the council maps last month. At-large Councilor Erin Murphy has also pitched a new set of political boundaries.
None of the maps proposed so far has received a vote from the council. The redistricting committee is expected to host more public meetings before the council votes on a new map.
The new map proposal from Breadon and Worrell would leave several council districts largely untouched, with some of the most significant changes proposed in Dorchester and on the fringes of the South Boston-based District 2 whose population had ballooned over the last decade.
To accommodate for that increase, mapmakers have to move more than 10,000 voters out of District 2, which is held by Flynn and includes South Boston and Chinatown. Breadon and Worrell’s map would shift voting precincts from the West End, South Boston, and downtown into neighboring council districts. It would also keep Chinese communities in the South End linked with residents of Chinatown, a priority for residents.
With an eye toward strengthening political representation for communities of color, the map proposed by Breadon and Worrell would shuffle several Dorchester precincts between Worrell’s District 4 and Councilor Frank Baker’s District 3, slightly decreasing the percentage of white residents in District 3 while increasing it in District 4.
Beth Huang, who leads a consortium of community organizations advocating for fair maps, said that with those boundaries, the proposal “seems to accomplish two important things.”
“In general, this map strengthens the potential influence and representation of people of color in District 3, without sacrificing the people of color majorities in District 7 or 4,” Huang said.
The proposed map would also unite two areas that are currently split between districts: Fields Corner and “Mass. and Cass,” an area near where Roxbury, the South End, and Dorchester meet, that has become the epicenter of the city’s addiction and homelessness crises. Both would be consolidated into District 3.
Kevin Peterson, who leads the New Democracy Coalition, called for the redistricting committee to engage further with Black communities and described the map as “entirely premature and superfluous.” Advocates have called on the committee to hold hearings in the neighborhoods that will be most affected by the changed boundaries, not just in City Hall.
The council is aiming to finalize its maps before Nov. 7, since councilors must live in their districts for a full year before the next general election.