The Boston City Council on Friday inched closer to agreement on new boundaries for council districts, as the discussion narrowed from four proposed maps under consideration to one. But the body’s divides were nevertheless in full view, with councilors making swipes and digs at each other in an acrimonious discussion that demonstrated just how difficult it will be for the body to coalesce behind a new set of boundaries in time to avoid disrupting the upcoming election season.
During an afternoon hearing that lasted more than four hours, Ruthzee Louijeune, the at-large city councilor who chairs the committee debating the maps, all but rejected three map proposals and directed the council’s attention to a fourth, one she authored.
“As chair, my map is the map that we are working off of,” Louijeune said. “My map will be the starting point, but it doesn’t mean it is the ending point. So we will incorporate feedback from different city councilors.”
Maps authored by Mayor Michelle Wu and Councilor Michael Flaherty are “not the best starting point for us,” Louijeune said after leading brief discussions of both. She also seemed to dismiss a proposal from Councilor Kendra Lara, though she suggested the final council plan will include elements of each map.
After a federal judge this month blocked the city from using the map passed during last fall’s contentious redistricting process, the council is scrambling to draw and approve a new version — a task Wu says must be completed by May 30 to keep this fall’s municipal elections on schedule. But so far, the divided body has yet to coalesce behind any new map proposal; instead, councilors have spent hours debating procedural matters. Last week, councilors argued over which committee should be in charge of redistricting discussions; on Monday, they debated what, precisely, the committee was legally allowed to discuss during its hearing.
Friday’s hearing, which Louijeune lead at a quick clip, proved more substantive. A couple of hours into the hearing, Louijeune and other councilors pulled up the map proposal on their respective screens and began to collaborate, suggesting moves to specific precincts and gauging the resulting population shifts.
Louijeune said that of the four proposals, her map would cause the least disruption to existing districts, an important consideration given the tight timeline before this fall’s elections. She has also said her proposed map would redress the potential constitutional violation highlighted by the judge by reuniting Ward 16, which includes the Cedar Grove and Adams Village neighborhoods in Dorchester, into the District 3 council seat, instead of splitting that part of Dorchester into separate districts as the map rejected by the judge had done. 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.
Even as councilors worked directly with the map on Friday, a familiar contentious tone emerged, with some members suggesting their colleagues were operating in bad faith.
One area of focus was Chinatown and neighboring precincts in the South End that include affordable housing developments. The Chinese Progressive Association staged a speak-out on City Hall Plaza Friday afternoon calling for those areas to be united, and a number of residents spoke on that point during public testimony, arguing that the communities share interests and can better make their voices heard when they are united.
But as Louijeune suggested that tweak to the proposed map at the front of the chamber, Council President Ed Flynn, who represents Chinatown, grew frustrated.
“Did anybody ask my opinion about that?” questioned a visibly agitated Flynn. “This is my district.”
Flynn’s South Boston-based District 2 has been a focus of the redistricting process because its population swelled in the most recent federal census. Since federal law requires all council districts to have roughly equal populations, District 2 had to shed thousands of voters, making its boundaries a major point of contention in any proposed map.
“I’m willing to compromise, I’m willing to give some precincts and take some precincts, but I don’t know if my colleagues are willing to do that as well,” Flynn said.
Map proposals discussed Friday were not final, and the council has more hearings scheduled on Monday and Tuesday, ahead of a potential vote Wednesday. That May 24 meeting is the council’s only regularly scheduled formal meeting before the May 30 deadline Wu has identified.
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, but it will require quick action.
Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Emma Platoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.