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Council OK’s disputed remap of Boston districts

Critics say plan slights minorities; Mayor’s backing is uncertain

The Boston City Council voted by a razor-thin margin Wednesday to approve a redistricting plan that immediately came under fire, with complaints that it dilutes the political influence of the city’s people of color.

But the plan, which passed by a 7-to-6 vote, is not yet a sure thing: If Mayor Thomas M. Menino does not sign onto the new map, it will take nine votes from city councilors to overrule and make the proposed map ­official. Menino said he was not yet sure whether he would give his approval.

“We will review this map to make sure all residents are properly represented,” Menino said in a statement Wednesday. “We will take a close look before making any decisions.”


A coalition of local organizations representing communities of color vowed to sue the city if the map becomes law.

The vote was unusually close for a City Council that often moves in lockstep. The decision followed more than a year of debate about redrawing the city’s nine districts, a process that unfolds after the once-a-decade US census and is designed to reflect population shifts, making sure each district has comparable numbers of voters.

The most controversial change centered on District 2. South Boston is the heart of the district, but, historically, it has included Chinatown and swaths of the South End. Under the new map, District 2 absorbs the section of downtown around City Hall. But heavily minority neighborhoods in the southern part of the district are jettisoned, instead becoming part of Dorchester’s District 3. And two precincts in the South End are shifted to District 7 in Roxbury.

Councilor Bill Linehan, chairman of the Redistricting Committee, defended the plan in City Council chambers Wednesday, saying the map ­integrated ideas from multiple proposals considered during months of debate. Linehan represents District 2, and he barely survived a 2011 reelection battle with an opponent who rolled up majorities in Chinatown and the South End.


“The plan before you today, as I said, is a good one,” he told his fellow councilors before the vote. “Does it please everybody? Absolutely not. Does it make every neighborhood whole? No, it does not.”

Joining Linehan in voting for the redistricting map were Councilors Frank Baker of Dorchester, Mark Ciommo of Brighton, Robert Consalvo of Hyde Park, Salvatore LaMattina of East Boston, Stephen J. ­Murphy of Hyde Park, and Matt O’Malley of Jamaica Plain.

Voting against were Councilors Tito Jackson of Roxbury, John R. Connolly of West ­Roxbury, Charles Yancey of Dorchester, Ayanna Pressley of Dorchester, Felix G. Arroyo of Jamaica Plain, and Michael P. Ross of Mission Hill.

Sean Daughtry, political action chairman for the Boston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the vote was disappointing, after community members spent time reaching out to councilors and submitting alternative proposals they felt more fairly represented minorities.

“None of the councilors of color voted for this map,” Daughtry said, “and I think that says a lot.”

Some councilors maintained that the plan would disenfranchise minority residents because it concentrates large numbers of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians in a small number of districts. They pointed to the stark contrast in diversity between districts, charging that minorities were packed into some districts and excluded from others to limit their voting power.


The South Boston district, for example, will be made up of 32 percent of people of color. District 4, including parts of Dorchester and Mattapan, will be composed of 95 percent people of color.

“We live in a more diverse city than we have ever seen in the past,” Jackson said. People of color now constitute 53 percent of the city’s population, he added. “Each and every precinct and district should reflect that increased diversity.”

Under the proposal that passed, District 1 — East ­Boston, Charlestown, and the North End — will relinquish the area around City Hall.

But complaints brought by community organizations ­focused on District 2, the South Boston district, which will lose the Polish Triangle and Carson Beach. They argued that legislators were trying to eliminate the minority population by moving precincts in the southern section of South Boston, an area surrounding the Mary ­Ellen McCormack housing ­development, to Dorchester’s District 3. “When I see a map that comes before me that moves two of the three most diverse precincts from District 2,” said Jackson, “that makes me not want to vote and support that map.”

Community groups opposing the plan also argued that transferring sections of the South End from District 2 to District 7 was an attempt to weaken the South End-
Chinatown voting bloc.

Yancey added his voice to criticism of the plan, saying that 7,000 Mattapan residents will be moved to different districts, a transfer that he argued will break up the community.


“The people of Mattapan ­deserve to have a unified district,” he said in council debate.

Linehan defended his map, saying that it was the best way to keep the largest number of communities undivided.

“This plan changes my district more drastically than any others, so I know how it feels to lose part of the district,” he said.

Pressley made a final effort to encourage councilors to vote down Linehan’s plan and spend more time seeking a better solution, lest the city be sued.

“A lawsuit alleging that the city did not go far enough in ensur­ing an equitable voice and opportunity for residents of color is a terrible thing for this body, for our city, and most impor­tantly for residents,” Pressley said. “I ask that we go back to the drawing board one more time.”

Mark Liu, deputy director of the Chinese Progressive Association, said that his group will probably file suit on the new district lines and that it has support from other groups.

“This is clearly packing and diluting the voice of people of color,” Liu said.

Alejandra St. Guillen, executive director of Oiste, a statewide Latino civic organization, said the group is relying on Menino to decide against approv­ing the proposal. She felt buoyed by the fact that the proposal passed with such a narrow margin.

“It was encouraging,” St. Guillen said. “It makes us very hopeful that the mayor will make the right decision.”

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.