City redistricting draws scant attention

Yawu Miller | 10/18/2011, 11:02 p.m.
City councilors Bill Linehan and Charles Yancey explain the city’s redistricting process to an audience, including Councilor Tito...
City councilors Bill Linehan and Charles Yancey explain the city’s redistricting process to an audience, including Councilor Tito Jackson (second from right). Population increases in the north of the city will force district lines to shift in this year’s re-drawing of district lines, according to Linehan. Yawu Miller

The City Council’s Redistricting Committee is in the midst of re-drawing the nine council districts, a process councilors expect to complete by the end of the year.

But so far, the three hearings held by the Redistricting Committee have been sparsely attended and largely overshadowed by the state Legislature’s redistricting process.

Committee Chairman Bill Linehan and District 6 Councilor Matt O’Malley both pointed out that the 34 people who turned out to last week’s hearing at the William E. Divine Clubhouse at Franklin Park constituted the largest crowd for any of the hearings held thus far.

That observation didn’t sit well with Rasaan Hall, deputy director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights.

“If this is the third hearing and this is a packed house, this is a crying shame,” he said. “There are plenty of groups that want to have an impact on how the districts are re-drawn.”

The hearing, also attended by councilors Charles Yancey, Tito Jackson and Matt O’Malley, was the third of four scheduled. The last hearing was scheduled to be held at the Reggie Lewis Athletic facility on Oct. 18.

What’s at stake for voters in the black community and throughout the city is a process that can determine how their neighborhoods are represented in the City Council. Although more than half of the city’s residents are people of color, only two of the nine district council seats are held by people of color — District 7 held by Tito Jackson and 4, held by Charles Yancey.

Although two additional districts are majority-minority — District 5 held by Rob Consalvo and District 3, which is now open — neither has ever elected a person of color.

Historically in Boston, districts have been drawn to protect the incumbency of the overwhelmingly white council. The majority of the city’s non-white population is packed into districts 4 and 7 at the center of the city. The population of District 4 is 96 percent people of color — District 7 is 76 percent. The other seven districts are drawn around the periphery of 4 and 7, embracing the historically white strongholds of South Boston, Savin Hill, Neponset and Cedar Grove in Dorchester, West Roxbury, Allston/Brighton, Back Bay, Beacon Hill and Charlestown.

When the districts were drawn, rather than lumping the predominantly white sections of Dorchester in with the adjacent community of South Boston, the South Boston council district was drawn to include Chinatown and the South End, two communities with smaller voting populations, more people of color and histories of supporting more progressive candidates.

Similarly, the District 6 seat, which has always been held by a West Roxbury resident, also includes most of Jamaica Plain and part of Roslindale, neighborhoods with more people of color and more progressive voting patterns.

Redistricting Committee Chairman Bill Linehan pointed out that he may have the most to lose in this year’s re-drawing. The population in the northern portion of the city has increased relative to the south of the city. District 2, which includes Linehan’s home in South Boston, has had the most growth of any district with a population of 74,069. Abutting his district to the south is Dorchester’s District 3, which has just 60,853 people, the lowest population of any district.