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Boston council moves to push back candidate deadline as a fourth redistricting map plan emerges

Boston City Hall.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Staring down a tight time frame to come up with a new redistricting map, the Boston City Council on Wednesday moved to push back the deadline for nomination papers a month for district councilors, while a fourth district map proposal emerged.

At its regular City Hall meeting, the body approved a home-rule petition moving the deadline for filing nomination papers for the district seats from May 23 to the end of day on June 23. The deadline for council candidates running to represent the whole city rather than just a district would remain unchanged. The delay proposal is expected to be signed by Mayor Michelle Wu before heading to Beacon Hill, where it would need approval to become a reality.

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The move came more than a week after a federal judge barred Boston from using the map it approved last fall for new City Council districts, saying a legal challenge to redistricting could be successful in proving race played too heavy a hand in the process.

Now, the clock is ticking. Wu has told the council it has until May 30 to approve the new map for this fall’s municipal contests. With council seats up for election this year, there is little time for another extended debate over the boundaries. The City Council general election is less than six months away and candidates are still unsure which district they will be running in.

In 1983, the last time Boston districts were blocked by a federal court, the city ultimately had to delay its elections. Councilors are hoping to avoid that this time around.

“Time is of the essence,” Liz Breadon, a district councilor representing Allston-Brighton, said on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s meeting did not feature the rhetorical fireworks and nasty in-fighting that has punctuated some council sessions in recent months. There was minimal discussion of redistricting, as various maps will be considered in detail at a hearing of the council’s civil rights and immigrant advancement committee Friday afternoon.

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Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, who chairs that committee, said Wednesday that in order for the council to comply with the recent federal court order, the body must pass a map quickly, on a timeline that will allow for the city’s elections department to distribute nomination papers, certify signatures, print ballots, and facilitate mail-in voting. The council creating and approving a map is preferable to a court-appointed special master taking over the process, she suggested.

“The redistricting issues are a solvable problem,” she said. “Better we do it here than it be done for us.”

Additionally, a fourth redistricting map was proposed on Wednesday, with City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who represents the entire city as an at-large member, putting forward boundary lines that he said would try to keep neighborhoods whole. There were three maps — one from Louijeune, one from Wu, and one from Councilor Kendra Lara — already on the table.

Each of those proponents contend their map would address the concerns detailed by the judge who rejected the previously approved map, which was drawn in response to a population surge in the Seaport, and shuffled voters from the South Boston-based District 2 into Dorchester-based District 3. The redistricting process requires Boston to roughly equalize the population in each of its nine City Council districts to account for swells and shifts captured in each decennial census.

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The mapmakers also assert their measures would unify various neighborhoods in council districts. (Left unsaid is that any boundary-drawing also inevitably splits some neighborhoods of Boston into different council districts.)

Now, under the watchful eye of the court, the council will have to devise a new map that complies with a complex tangle of federal legal requirements. And the most potential for chaos and confusion comes in neighboring Districts 3 and 4, which cover different parts of Dorchester, and whose boundaries were at particular issue in the federal lawsuit. (District 3 represents coastal Dorchester, while District 4 includes parts of Dorchester generally west of Dorchester Avenue.)

After the council meeting, Flaherty expressed frustration at how the redistricting process has unfolded, acknowledging that proceedings have been unproductive and slow-moving at times.

“I don’t think folks are coming to the table in good faith . . . being willing to give up some precincts,” he said.

Flaherty ticked off the neighborhoods that would be whole under his map: Roslindale Square, Mattapan Square, and Egleston Square. He said the biggest change from the status quo in his proposal would be in District 8, a downtown district that includes the wealthy neighborhoods of Beacon Hill and the Back Bay. His map would remove a significant chunk of Mission Hill from that district and put it in District 7, which is anchored in Roxbury. Working class Mission Hill, he argued, is a starkly different neighborhood from the rest of District 8 and doesn’t belong there.

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“No map is perfect,” he conceded.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him @Danny__McDonald.