BY A 7-6 vote Wednesday, the Boston City Council passed a redistricting plan that diminishes the clout of some minority voters in the city while making life easier for incumbents — most notably District 2 councilor Bill Linehan, chairman of the redistricting committee. The council had better options but failed to embrace them, a situation that Mayor Menino should correct.
Last spring, district city councilors Matt O’Malley and Tito Jackson offered a compromise map that respected the city’s so-called communities of interest — language, ethnic, and economic groups with common political concerns. The plan didn’t dilute the power of black, Hispanic, and Asian voters by spreading them too thinly across districts, nor did it pack them so tightly into a few districts as to minimize their impact. But Linehan, who narrowly survived a challenge in the last election, took a different tack. His plan protected sections of his traditional base in white precincts of South Boston while shedding minority precincts where he couldn’t count on political support. A modified version of that map prevailed this week.
Menino should veto the redistricting plan, which failed to win the support of even one of the city’s four minority councilors. Because of its defects, the plan risks entangling the city in litigation. Leading minority organizations also have announced their intention to challenge the redistricting plan in court. Menino has a 15-day window in which to act. But he shouldn’t need that long to see the problems with the plan and signal his willingness to sign the O’Malley/Jackson plan or similar compromise.
Linehan was hardly the only district councilor to behave in self-serving fashion during the redistricting process. And to his credit, he ran a fair and transparent process as chairman of the redistricting committee. But City Council President Stephen Murphy erred when he reappointed Linehan to the chair of the redistricting committee this year. Linehan won reelection last fall by less than 100 votes. The reapportionment process shouldn’t be under the guidance of a councilor whose political survival is at stake in even tiny shifts of district lines.
The council can do better than the plan it passed, but only by adhering to the principle that districts are drawn to serve voters, not colleagues.