With just weeks if not days before the 2023 election season is due to begin, the Boston City Council is now debating over three different political maps for citywide elections, with councilors already settling into a familiar pattern of rancor and division.
More than one week after a federal judge nixed a redistricting plan that took a highly divided council months of arguing to draw up last year, the 12 sitting councilors are scheduled to meet in a full session on Wednesday with no clear sign of a consensus emerging.
Two new proposals emerged on Tuesday to counter a map that Mayor Michelle Wu offered late last week: one from Councilor Kendra Lara and another from Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune. Each proponent contends her map would address the concerns detailed by the judge who rejected the current map and would unify various neighborhoods in council districts.
For instance, Louijeune said her proposed map would redress the potential constitutional violation highlighted last week by the judge by reuniting Ward 16, which includes the Cedar Grove and Adams Village neighborhoods in Dorchester, into a single council seat, District 3, instead of parsing them into separate districts.
That part of the city is one of the key fault lines in the redistricting process, especially in how Districts 3 and 4 were divided, and each map would take a different tack in redrawing council lines.
Lara, for example, would redirect a portion of District 3 far northward, through the South End to the Massachusetts Turnpike. District 3, under her plan, would be 43 percent white, a higher proportion than both Wu’s and Louijeune’s maps would produce.
Louijeune’s plan, like Lara’s, would also extend a part of the district into the Albany Street area of the South End, albeit in a different configuration. The district would be 36 percent white under her proposal.
Wu’s map, by contrast, would locate the upper end of District 3 much farther to the south, near the Mason Elementary School on Norfolk Avenue in Roxbury. It would be about 31 percent white under the mayor’s plan.
Lara called Wu’s map “incredibly disruptive,” especially given that municipal elections are mere months away, and said she tried to make minimal changes with her map.
“It’s in alignment with the changes that the judge called for us to do,” Lara said earlier this week, “and I think it’s our best way forward.”
Several colleagues have expressed interest in either Lara’s or Louijeune’s map.
“Good suggestions,” Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson said of both maps. Councilor Julia Mejia said she is supporting Lara’s map because it follows the judge’s court order “by keeping communities of interest together while making minimal changes,” as she put it Tuesday. And Councilor Ricardo Arroyo said Tuesday that Lara’s map represents “an adherence to the court order.”
“It maintains communities of interest currently united in one district; it unifies and further unifies communities that are currently separated and it does this while maintaining Cedar Grove and Adams Village in District 3 and unifying all of South Boston in District 2 for the first time in a decade,” he said.
Meanwhile the mayor’s proposal drew both supporters and critics. Wu said her aim was to keep neighborhoods in a single council district.
Councilor Michael Flaherty, for example, said Wu’s map, “brings more communities of interest and neighborhoods together, and it’s the most responsive to the federal court injunction and the secretary of state’s directive.”
“Each district councilor has to dig deep and be selfless and work in good faith and be willing to give up some of their existing precincts and take on some new precincts while adhering to the redistricting principles and the law or the federal court will do it for us,” said Flaherty, who as an at-large councilor represents the entire city.
The City Council president, Ed Flynn, was also supportive of Wu’s map, saying it would “bring our city together.” Flynn was one of the four councilors who voted against the new map last year and contributed $10,000 to the lawsuit that challenged it.
Moreover, one of the attorneys behind the lawsuit that got the new redistricting map thrown out last week, Glen Hannington, said Wu’s map “is the most encouraging” of the the ones that have been publicly floated. On Monday, he wrote a letter to city attorneys stating his clients want Mattapan to be kept whole and together in District 4 and communities of interest kept together, including Ward 16 and Ward 13. Both Cedar Grove and the Vietnamese neighborhood sometimes called “Little Saigon” should be in District 3, the plaintiffs said, and the public housing complexes in South Boston in Wards 6 and 7 should be reunited in one district.
However, one of the councilors who opposed the new map last year and helped bankroll the lawsuit, Frank Baker of Dorchester, said Tuesday he has seen all three maps “but haven’t really digested them.”
But in addition to Lara, Arroyo also was dismissive of the Wu map, calling it a “nonstarter” earlier in the week. And a coalition of local progressive groups called Wu’s map regressive and said it “would eviscerate decades of neighborhood-driven work to create a new Boston.”
Last week’s court ruling barred Boston from using the map it approved last fall for new City Council districts, saying a legal challenge to the redistricting process could be successful in proving race played too heavy a hand in the process. Wu has told the council it has until May 30 to approve the new map for this fall’s municipal elections.
And already, the tone from council members has some involved worried about a protracted debate that could affect the elections calendar. Hannington, for example, said in his letter that the ongoing acrimony within the City Council “appears to be more divisive in this process since the injunction was allowed.”
Danny McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.