Boston City Council will meet to consider new redistricting map as clock winds down
Up against a tight deadline, the deeply divided Boston City Council on Wednesday will grapple with choosing a new redistricting map after a previous map was blocked by a federal judge.
Mayor Michelle Wu says the council must pass a new map on or before May 30 in order to hold the fall elections on time.
But there's no clear path forward after U.S. District Court Judge Patti Saris rejected the city's original voting map last week, writing that councilors may have considered race too heavily in drawing districts.
Now the 13-member Boston City Council, which devolved into insult-hurling while drawing up the first map, needs to agree on a new one.
There are currently three proposed maps on the table, offered by Wu, Councilor Kendra Lara, and Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune.
Wu was the first to create an alternative map, sending it out for consideration Friday evening.
"This proposed map unifies neighborhoods within council districts and is one I am prepared to sign," she wrote in a letter to councilors.
Wu's map re-worked many of the boundaries of the invalidated one, including uniting Dorchester’s Adams Village and Neponset neighborhoods, which tend to be whiter and lean more conservative than the rest of the city.
That area was a key focus of opponents who brought the federal lawsuit.
Wu's map also keeps South Boston entirely within District 2, while putting the South End in District 8. Under Wu's plan, District 8 would lose Mission Hill.
The proposal was quickly criticized by a group of progressive advocacy organizations.
"There's no question that the election schedule is tight and that this is a pressing issue that we need to deal with," Lawyers for Civil Rights attorney Jacob Love said in an interview.
But he said the mayor's proposed solution was an "attempt to ram through a map with dramatic changes without consulting the communities that are getting broken up in that map."
A spokesperson for Wu pushed back on that characterization as "inaccurate and incendiary."
Councilor Kendra Lara put forward her own map Monday, which attempted to make more limited changes to the original map to address the judge's concerns.
"Given that we are a short time away from an election, it's in the best interest of our constituents and the democratic process that we adhere to the court order in the least disruptive way," Lara said in a statement. "This map does exactly that."
Louijeune, chair of the council's committee on civil rights and immigrant advancement, also filed a proposed map with smaller tweaks.
The council last week voted to send the redistricting issue to Louijuene's committee. But councilors then argued at their Monday meeting over that committee's jurisdiction to actually discuss redistricting, sending them into a recess that lasted over an hour.
The question of committee ownership is slated to come up again Wednesday. And before councilors can move forward with choosing a new map, they'll need to settle this more basic issue of governance.
If the past is any guide, even that will be contentious.