Lawmakers Urged To Create Opportunities For Candidates Of Color

The state's only majority-minority Congressional district, represented by U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, is an area ripe for lawmakers to create more opportunities for candidates of color at the state level, according to officials and advocates who testified Monday in front of legislators in charge of redistricting.

Pressley, who in 2018 became the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, urged the Special Committee on Redistricting on Monday to keep as much of her district intact as possible.

Meanwhile, leaders in Chelsea, Revere and Randolph pressed for their communities to be "kept whole" in House districts on Beacon Hill, rather than carved up. And numerous advocates said Boston should have a Senate district crafted to make it more likely that a Black person can be elected.

One leading advocate for Chinese communities in Boston also said Chinatown should be grouped with other communities of color in the state Senate the way it used to be.

"I am confident that using the same principles top of mind when these boundaries were drawn 10 years ago, centering racial and economic diversity of the Massachusetts 7th as its strength and keeping municipalities whole where possible will guide these difficult conversations and even more difficult decisions," Pressley said.

Monday's hearing focused on the territory covered by the 7th Congressional District and was the eighth hearing hosted by the committee as it waits for detailed Census data that will inform how the boundaries of the district might change.

The state's population of 7,029,917 means that each district is expected to have 781,102 people. The UMass Donahue Institute estimates that Pressley's district now includes 792,823 residents, which would mean it would have to shrink slightly.

The U.S. Census Bureau says it intends to release detailed demographic statistics from the 2020 Census by Aug. 16, which will allow the committee, lawmakers and the public a chance to get a better view at how and where populations have grown or shifted.

The data will include race, ethnicity and voting-age population of residents by state, county, city or town and Census tract and will be released in a "legacy format" that governments used the past two redistricting cycles. More "user-friendly" formatting will go online by Sept. 30, the bureau said.

Pressley has represented the 7th District since 2019 after she defeated long-time incumbent Michael Capuano in a district that became the state's first and only majority-minority district after the 2010 Census.

The current contours of the district grew from Somerville, Chelsea and parts of Boston and Cambridge to include Everett, Randolph and parts of Milton.

Pressley, who lives in Dorchester, said those communities have shared concerns about access to transportation, environmental justice, housing affordability and education. For instance, Pressley said the air quality monitors the federal government agreed to fund in Chelsea are critical to fighting high rates of asthma in Somerville, Everett and East Boston as well.

She also said her district includes a high concentration of 15 community health centers where one in three of her constituents access health care. Keeping those institutions in the same district allows her to more effectively advocate on their behalf, Pressley said.

Rep. Michael Moran and Sen. William Brownsberger, the co-chairs of the committee, have said preserving, if not strengthening, the district's majority-minority status is a top priority.

Beth Huang, executive director of the Massachusetts Voter Table and a leader in the Drawing Democracy Coalition, and Kevin Peterson, of the New Democracy Coalition, said creating a Senate district in Boston where it's likely a Black person will be elected also should be a top priority.

The Senate is currently without a Black member.

"There is opportunity to reimagine how we can create not only a singular majority seat that would allow for the articulation of the voters in that district to move towards a Black senator but also create two, maybe three, very so-called majority influence districts in the city of Boston," Peterson said.

Huang and Peterson both focused on the Second Suffolk District, which is currently represented by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who is running for governor. Chang-Diaz's bid for higher office, Peterson said, means the Legislature could create an incumbent-free district with a higher concentration of Black residents than currently living there.

Sen. Joe Boncore's expected departure from the Senate to lead the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council also creates opportunities to strengthen the political power of communities of color, advocates said.

Boncore is from Winthrop, but represents a district that includes Revere, East Boston and Chinatown. Suzanne Lee, of the Chinese Progressive Association, said that before this configuration Chinatown historically had been grouped with communities of color in the South End and Lower Roxbury.

"That was a big blow to us because we have spent years building coalitions," Lee said, asking that Chinatown once again be reunited with those neighborhoods in a Senate district.

Moran said he was aware of the concerns about diluting the influence of Chinese voters in Boston given that the city has not redrawn precincts in many years and there has been significant new development.

The Brighton Democrat said he would consider subdividing city precincts based on the demographic to preserve a voice for the Chinese population.

"If the people that are moving in are going to water down the Asian population in Chinatown because we haven't done reprecincting in Boston in a long time, I think that bears us taking a look at," Moran said.

Brownsberger also acknowledged that if Boncore were to leave the Senate it would make change easier.

"If it happens, I wouldn't assume that the district looks like it looks like, so people are going to have to see how these districts shape up before they start making their plans to run for Senate," Brownsberger said.

Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston is one person who might be interested in Boncore's Senate seat, but Moran said he was reluctant to "tinker" with Madaro's seat because it was already majority Hispanic.

Huang agreed, but said the East Boston, Revere and Chelsea areas were primed for "remixing."

Roberto Jimenz Rivera, a Chelsea School Committee member, asked that Chelsea no longer be divided between two House districts, and that precincts in East Boston be used to add population for a Chelsea-based seat.

Similar arguments were made for Revere, which is currently represented by Democrats from Winthrop and Charlestown, and Randolph, which is represented in the House by Democrats from Milton, Braintree and Quincy.

Town Manager Brian Howard and Town Councilors Katrina Huff-Larmond and Jesse Gordon said Randolph would like to remain in Pressley's 7th Congressional District and anchor a new House district that could include precincts from neighboring Avon, Stoughton or Canton.

"There has been so much progressive mobility in the district since we have been placed in a majority minority district and we want to continue building on that foundation," Huff-Larmond said, adding, "It has taken way too long for us to get to where we are today."

J.T. Scott, a Ward 2 councilor in Somerville, was one of those who asked the committee to not make any changes in his city.

Scott said the 7th Congressional District is united by "shared struggles" and "shared advocacy," and said the city's three House members "represent us very well at the state level."

At-Large Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia asked the committee not to further subdivide Boston among more than two Congressional districts, and said she supported efforts to create a state Senate district that would improve the odds of electing a Black Bostonian to the state Senate.

The city is currently represented in Congress by Pressley and Rep. Stephen Lynch.



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