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The devil is in the details

This week, City Councilor Maureen Feeney will release the details of three new redistricting maps that will redraw the city’s political boundaries as part of a once-every-decade process. When she does so, the chair of the council’s Census and Redistricting Committee will face a barrage of competing demands from her council colleagues.

Based on the 2000 census, the population of each the city’s nine council districts must be within five percent of 65,460. Under that criterion, three districts are overpopulated (District 1, the North End, District 2, South Boston, and District 3, Dorchester) and two are underpopulated (District 6, West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, and District 7, Roxbury). To rebalance them, councilors will have to engage in some political give and take with their precincts.

For the first time in Boston's history, census results show a majority of the city populated by people of color, so the pressure is on to create a fourth majority-minority seat, following Feeney’s District 3, Chuck Turner’s District 7, and Charles Yancey’s District 4. The council is committed to doing so, Feeney says, but not if it means splitting neighborhoods. So far, four plans have been presented to create a fourth majority-minority seat. But the devil is in the details.

" I went to my colleagues and asked them what [precincts] they are willing to give up, " says Feeney. " They said ‘none of them.’ "

Much attention so far has been given a redistricting plan offered last fall by then–Redistricting Committee chair Turner to create a new " Hispanic seat " centered around Jamaica Plain by merging largely white West Roxbury from District 6 with the white sections of Hyde Park and Roslindale of District 5. But Turner’s plan would split four neighborhoods and, perhaps more significantly, it would force council incumbents John Tobin (District 6, West Roxbury) and Rob Consalvo (District 5, Hyde Park) to run against each other.

Because of an influx of new immigrant families in the East Boston portion of District 1, Councilor Paul Scapicchio will be forced to give up either the West End, including Charles River Park, or the downtown/waterfront district. The betting is that Scapicchio would rather give up Charles River Park, despite its high density of elderly (read: dependable) voters. That's because downtown/waterfront presents such a tantalizing opportunity to raise money from wealthy developers.

District 8 councilor Michael Ross — the only Jewish member of the council — would likely prize Charles River Park, which still has a sizable number of Jewish residents. But to do so, he will probably have to give up a precinct or two in Mission Hill.

District 2 councilor Jimmy Kelly of South Boston probably wouldn't mind adding Scapicchio’s downtown precinct to his district. Turnout there is low and it would give him numerous opportunities to poke his finger in the eye of Mayor Tom Menino, with whom he is feuding. To do so, though, Kelly would have to give up a precinct or two. But he wouldn’t want to give up Chinatown, where he has assiduously courted the Asian-American business community, or St. Margaret’s parish in Dorchester, a largely white neighborhood that borders his native South Boston.

Feeney, meanwhile, would love to add St. Margaret’s to her district. But not if it would mean giving up St. Mark’s near Codman Square or Ashmont Hill further south.

Tobin needs to add population to District 6. He would like to regain Ward 20 precincts 3 (Woodley Avenue) and 7 (Holy Name), two predominantly West Roxbury precincts that were stripped from District 6 in 1995 (the last redistricting) to dilute opposition to then–District 6 councilor Maura Hennigan. The alternative for Tobin is to pick up two precincts from Ross on Mission Hill — thereby reuniting the Lower Roxbury neighborhood — or adding parts of Jamaica Plain.

Turner must also increase the population of his district. If his own plan is not adopted, he would pick up two of Kelly’s gentrified South End precincts. Feeney’s proposals could also see Turner picking up precincts in Dorchester from Feeney, the Egleston Square section of Jamaica Plain from Tobin, or the Fenway (including Fenway Park) from Ross.

Even if Turner’s plan were adopted and a new District 6 were carved from parts of Hyde Park, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, and Mission Hill, there is no guarantee a minority would win the seat. Turner's new District 6 would be roughly 56 percent minority, with less than a third Latino. The problem with creating a Hispanic seat, according to Feeney, is that Latinos are spread throughout the city, with perhaps the largest concentration, 26 percent, located in geographically isolated East Boston.

Feeney has no simple illusions about the task, which is somewhat akin to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. Hearings will be held in the coming weeks in hopes of having a new map in place sometime early this fall.

Issue Date: July 25 - August 1, 2002
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