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Boston City Council passes redistricting plan

The Boston City Council voted, 11 to 2, Wednesday to ­approve a redistricting map that at the last moment won broad support after 16 months of wrangling fraught with electoral politics and racial undertones.

The map that passed was crafted by Councilor Tito ­Jackson, who amended a proposal from other councilors. It came as a rebuke to Councilor Bill Linehan, the chairman of the Redistricting Committee, who had lobbied against ­Jackson’s amendments.

“It moves the city of Boston forward,” Jackson said, describing the plan as “lasting and ­indelible lines” for “a city that is a majority people of color and a city that cares about everybody.”


Mayor Thomas M. Menino intends to sign the redistricting plan after vetoing two earlier maps, said his spokeswoman, Dot Joyce. She quoted Menino as saying the City Council vote was “reflective of the city.” Menino remained hospitalized with a respiratory virus and a blood clot in his leg.

The compromise won the support of a coalition that had threatened to sue if the city ­adopted earlier proposals. The coalition included the NAACP Boston Branch, the Chinese Progressive Association, the Hispanic political organization Oiste, and MassVOTE.

“No district looks entirely as we would have drawn it,” the coalition said in a statement, “but the map as a whole is a reasonable compromise that the City Councilors can be proud of.”

Wednesday marked an impos­ing deadline for councilors because a new map for nine City Council districts had to be adopted and signed by the mayor a year before the next municipal election, on Nov. 5, 2013. The council narrowly approved two previous maps, but Menino rejected those because he said both concentrated too many black, Hispanic, and other voters of color in too few districts.

On Wednesday, Jackson and Linehan were animated as they advocated for their maps, which differed by only five precincts. They spoke with a rare bluntness about race and electoral politics. At one point, Linehan, who is white, noted that Jackson, who is black, won his district by 90 percent and said “taking on a few white people isn’t going to kill Councilor Jackson.”


After the vote, they shook hands and embraced. After the session, Linehan made clear he harbored no ill will toward Jackson. “He was doing what he thinks is best for his constituency,” Linehan said. “I’m doing the same thing. So I didn’t win this time, but I think the city of Boston has a new plan that everybody can work with.”

Some of the most significant changes will be in District 5, which includes Hyde Park and part of Mattapan. In the new map, it will gain several more Mattapan precincts, making it significantly more diverse. More than 70 percent of residents will be voters of color, and almost 50 percent of the voting-age population will be black.

“What I’m really proud of is that District 5 has seen the greatest and most historic change,” said Councilor Rob Consalvo, who is white and has represented the district for a decade. “It really creates that fourth strong district of color . . . that was asked for by so many advocates across the city.”

At the same time, the new map removed Mattapan precincts from District 4, a point of contention for Councilor Charles C. Yancey, who joined Linehan in voting against the plan. Yancey had pushed his own redistricting proposal, but failed to win the support of any of his council colleagues. The new map will also have a significant impact on District 3, which encompasses much of Dorchester. The district will lose precincts in Lower Mills and along Dorchester Avenue.


Until Wednesday’s meeting, the council had remained divided despite months of hearings and compromise. In his vetoes, Menino told the council that too many black, Hispanic, and other voters of color were concentrated in District 4, which included much of Mattapan.

Councilors drafted a new map that included many compromises. But, until the final vote, the body remained divided in blocs that split along ­racial lines, to some degree.

As the council considered the plan offered by Linehan on behalf of the Redistricting Committee, Councilor Michael P. Ross issued a caution. “The map may pass with all white city councilors voting for it,” adding that was “not something this City Council nor this city can afford right now.”

The standoff boiled down to one precinct near the intersection of Pembroke Street and ­Columbus Avenue in the South End. The contested area — Ward 4, Precinct 3 — consisted of about nine blocks and roughly 1,520 people. In the 2011 municipal election, voters there backed challenger Suzanne Lee over Linehan by a 5-to-1 ratio.

The map that Linehan presented would have jettisoned the precinct from his district. In compromises over the past months, four precincts had ­already been removed from District 2: Three had voted overwhelmingly for Linehan, and one had voted overwhelmingly for Lee. Jackson’s amendments moved Ward 4, Precinct 3 back, giving the district an area that voted against Linehan.


City Council President ­Stephen J. Murphy was angry that Jackson received credit for the plan that passed. Before the vote, Linehan asked for a brief recess. During that break, ­Murphy said, Linehan agreed to release his votes so one map would pass with strong support. “The real work was done by Consalvo, [Councilor Frank] Baker, and Linehan,” Murphy said. “They were the real adults in the room.”

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com .