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On Boston City Council, tempers continue to flare over redistricting

Boston City Councilors Erin Murphy (left) and Frank Baker object to the new redistricting plan.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Raw nerves over last fall’s Boston City Council redistricting process were once again laid bare during a Wednesday meeting that featured city lawmakers bickering over matters of substance and procedure.

The friction began with a request for a hearing from Councilor Erin Murphy, to discuss whether the council followed the proper procedures to redraw the maps. Murphy said she was concerned about transparency in the map-making process.

“We need to focus on re-establishing trust, not just here in the chamber, among colleagues, but with our constituents,” said Murphy.

Redistricting continues to highlight the ideological and racial rifts on the Boston City Council. The vote last fall capped a chaotic months-long process that saw some lawmakers make barbed accusations of wrongdoing against their colleagues, including one invocation of age-old tensions between Catholics and Protestants.


An ongoing federal lawsuit has added to the divisiveness. The litigation asks a court to block the new, redrawn map from going into effect on the grounds that it violates the Voting Rights Act and the US Constitution. One sitting councilor is helping fund that suit, and another took the stand against some of his fellow councilors late last month, arguing they improperly took race into account when drawing the city’s new political map.

Supporters have said the approved map would strengthen political opportunities for people of color in a city long run by white voters and white elected officials, while critics took issue with the way it carved up neighborhoods in South Boston and Dorchester and split a public housing development between two districts.

Tensions over the issue continued to simmer during Wednesday’s meeting, with councilors locking horns and exchanging contentious back-and-forths.

Some councilors felt that Murphy’s hearing order insinuated that the redistricting process was done in a nefarious way, an assertion they rejected. Councilor Ricardo Arroyo said the council should stand by its process, which he said was done in a transparent way. He framed Murphy’s order as an attack on Councilor Liz Breadon, who chairs the council’s redistricting committee.


Arroyo said he supported Breadon’s “great work” during the process, which culminated last fall with the council passing a new district map that shuffled thousands of voters to roughly equalize the population in each district and, proponents say, empower communities of color to elect candidates of their choice.

During Wednesday’s council meeting, Arroyo also referenced the ongoing federal litigation over redistricting.

“To try and litigate a matter that is being litigated in the courts in this chamber is not a precedent I think we should be setting,” he said.

Sensing the redistricting discussion could go off the rails, Council President Ed Flynn repeatedly emphasized that the time to flesh out Murphy’s order was at a later date, during a committee hearing, not during the meeting of the full body.

“I’m not going to allow this meeting to get out of hand,” said Flynn, who was presiding over the meeting.

But no amount of persuasion could paper over the acrimonious divisions that have defined this iteration of the council.

Councilor Frank Baker, who has helped fund the redistricting lawsuit against the city and the council on which he serves, framed the redistricting process as problematic and “far from transparent.”

Breadon, the redistricting chair, batted away assertions of impropriety and defended the redistricting process, pointing out that there were 20 redistricting meetings, hearings, or working sessions that were open to the public.


When Flynn tried again to rein in discussion of the matter during the meeting, Arroyo countered that there was no rule that allowed for the council president to moderate the speech of his fellow elected councilors, so long as they were being civil.

Flynn called a brief recess. And, once the meeting was re-started, there was even a spat over what council committee should host Murphy’s order, a usually banal part of parliamentary procedure.

Flynn wanted to send the proposal to the committee that reviews disputes related to the City Council, but Arroyo objected, saying it made more sense for it to be heard in the redistricting committee. Baker rose to disagree with Arroyo.

Flynn called another recess and huddled with the city clerk and the council’s staff attorney.

During the brief recess, Flynn and Arroyo had a frosty exchange.

“There are rules for meetings, sir,” Arroyo said.

“Stop heckling me, please,” Flynn replied.

“I’m not heckling you, I’m just being very clear there are rules for meetings,” Arroyo continued.

“Thank you, you’ve made yourself clear,” Flynn said.

After 25 minutes of clashing on the topic, a motion to reconsider the vote of the proposal passed, and Flynn sent the measure to the redistricting committee.

Emma Platoff of Globe staff contributed to this report.

Danny McDonald can be reached at Follow him @Danny__McDonald.