Mayor Michelle Wu on Friday signed off on a new map for Boston City Council districts, meeting a crucial deadline for avoiding delays to this fall’s elections.
Wu did not make a statement on the new boundaries, but earlier this week praised the council for its “intensive work to reach consensus on a tight timeline.”
After a rushed, bitter process, the council voted 10–2 on Wednesday to approve the map, with supporters calling the new boundaries a compromise. The body had been on a tight timeline to redraw the boundaries of the nine council districts after a federal judge earlier this month blocked a previous map from going into effect, finding that the body had likely considered race in an improper manner when it drew the lines last fall.
Assuming the maps withstand any further legal scrutiny, the new district boundaries will be in effect for the next decade, starting with this fall’s municipal elections.
Wu’s signature likely puts an end to what had been a contentious and chaotic process, which left some city council candidates unsure of the boundaries of the districts they were seeking to represent — and, in some cases, unsure even of which district they would ultimately live in when the map was finalized.
Responding to population surges and shifts over the last decade, the new map shifts voters among Boston’s nine council districts. Some districts where population stayed relatively steady are largely unchanged. The largest changes were made , as a result of population surges in the Seaport, which left South Boston-based District 2 overpopulated relative to other districts.
The new map, which was drafted by Councilor At-Large Ruthzee Louijeune with feedback from a number of other councilors, roughly equalizes the population among districts, while seeking to unite communities with shared needs and interests.
Notably, the new map returns to Dorchester-based District Three a number of majority-white precincts at the southern tip of the neighborhood, a particularly contentious area that had been shifted into neighboring District Four under the blocked map. The border between Districts Three and Four — and the motivation for where it was drawn — was a matter of particular scrutiny in the federal litigation. The border between Districts Four and Five in Mattapan also proved a major point of contention during the latest round of council debates.
The councilors also united Little Saigon by moving two precincts into District Three, and kept together Chinatown and some affordable housing developments in the South End — both features advocates and residents had sought in public testimony.
Following the judge’s ruling, the revived map-making process grew intensely personal, with some councilors accusing others of machinations to benefit their own political careers, and others criticizing Louijeune for the way she incorporated feedback into the map proposal.
Council negotiations consumed the last few weeks. During a marathon hearing Tuesday evening, councilors argued for hours over the placement of a handful of precincts in a repetitive discussion that included as many personal attacks and accusations as it did suggestions for boundary shifts.
Redistricting is a challenging task under the best circumstances. The once-in-a-decade process requires map makers to balance political, legal, and geographical considerations — and in this case the council had just a few weeks to do it, under the watchful eye of a federal court.
After the council’s vote to approve the map on Wednesday, Louijeune acknowledged that the contentiousness of the process could take a toll on the public trust. She has said repeatedly that redistricting would be better handled by an independent commission, a process that is used in a number of states, including California, Michigan, and Arizona.
“Let’s be honest: We are elected officials who have to get elected, and so the lines will matter to you if it changes the ability of you to win reelection,” Louijeune said after the vote. Map making, she said, exemplifies the ugliness of “sausage making.”
Emma Platoff can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.