POLITICAL PETTINESS must have gotten the better of Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan, whose razor-thin margin of victory in his reelection campaign earlier this month helps explain the preliminary district map he’s offered for the council. Linehan has proposed dividing Chinatown, which he currently represents, across council districts; his district would lose two other precincts, one of which he lost handily. Linehan needs to readjust the map to restore both his own credibility and the common interests of voters in Chinatown.
Linehan narrowly held on to his seat by fewer than 100 votes earlier this month, but lost decisively to challenger Suzanne Lee in precincts with large number of Asian voters. And lo and behold, Linehan’s preliminary map splits Chinatown while keeping his South Boston base intact.
The map is unfair. Chinatown isn’t just a neighborhood; it’s a distinct community of interest. Beyond a shared language and culture, residents of this compact neighborhood share particular economic interests; the largely low-income neighborhood has a disproportionate number of residents in the restaurant and service industries. Bounded by wealthier areas, Chinatown is especially subject to upward pressure on housing prices because of downtown development. Even the decades-long struggle to build a public library in Chinatown unites the neighborhood. In other words, Chinatown is probably the last neighborhood in Boston that should be split up for the sake of incumbency protection.
Chinatown activists also claim that they lacked sufficient opportunity to be heard during the redistricting proposal process. This charge doesn’t resonate. Linehan held six redistricting hearings in the neighborhoods and additional meetings at City Hall. Another is scheduled for today. It’s the map, not the process that produced it, that is problematic.
The increase in population in the downtown and northern sections of Boston in the past decade creates severe technical challenges for Linehan as he attempts to keep all the districts roughly equal in population. No district will remain untouched. But that’s no excuse for his heavy hand in Chinatown.