After redistricting, a look ahead to 2023

Redistricting, like elections, is about the future. That didn’t stop at least one councillor, angry over the new boundaries of his Dorchester district and the carving of Neponset, from inexplicably bringing up the Troubles in Northern Ireland from decades ago.

But the dust is settling on the new map, signed by Mayor Wu on Nov. 7, and many of the district councillors now have thousands of new voters shunted into their respective districts. The map’s political lines, barring any legal challenges that would alter them, are set to be in place between 2023 and 2031.

Local political activists say that regardless of where voters and their City Hall representatives have landed under the map, they’re sanguine about what happens next.

“I think things will work out,” said Darryl Smith, Ward 14 Democratic Committee chairman who knows his way around city politics.

“Depending upon how the community and people in the community continue to push the narrative that the lines were drawn in a way that they didn’t like, it could spur folks to come out” in the 2023 municipal election cycle, he said, a reference to unhappiness in the Neponset area, after Ward 16’s Precincts 8, 11 and 12 came out of District 3 (represented by Frank Baker) and landed in District 4 (represented by Brian Worrell). All three are voter-rich areas based out of Adams Corner and Florian Hall.

The 2023 cycle is expected to be a low-turnout affair. The 2021 election drew 33 percent of registered Boston voters, while the 2019 election, without a mayoral contest on the ballot, drew 17 percent.

Smith added that he also sees the potential for comity with the well-respected Worrell stepping into the new parts of his Dorchester-and-Mattapan district. “He’s going to be the type of person who will appeal to all sides of Dorchester,” Smith said.

Joyce Linehan, the Ward 17 Committee chair, said she wished that councillors, when they were weighing the different maps proposed throughout the redistricting process, had done more to reach out to activists on the ground. Linehan, a former Marty Walsh aide who is stepping down from the chair next year but staying with the committee, noted that she lives in Ward 17’s Precinct 13 and is used to switching councillors thanks to the once-a-decade redistricting process. This time, she was shifted into District 4 from District 3. She called Baker a reliable councillor when it comes to constituent services.

“I’ve been redistricted a lot of times and I’m sure I’ll develop a relationship with my new city councillor,” she said.

Redistricting is a “difficult job,” she added, and it was bound to cause some unhappiness, as it did in the last round ten years ago. (South Boston’s Bill Linehan, who chaired the redistricting committee at the time, ended up voting against the final map that made it to Mayor Menino’s desk.)

This time, much of the unhappiness came from Baker and District 2’s Ed Flynn, as District 3 absorbed more of South Boston, primarily the public housing developments, and hooked left to pick up the precinct with the Ink Block residential units, while losing the Neponset precincts.

While Flynn voiced his disappointment with the majority of councillors who pushed ahead with the changes, Baker went further with his sectarian screed against the redistricting committee chair, Liz Breadon of Allston-Brighton.

Ed Cook, chair of the Ward 15 Democratic Committee, which didn’t see much change to its City Council district contours, said he supported Baker when he first ran for City Council in 2011. But the redistricting “positions he took, I think, may cause people to be less supportive of him,” Cook said.

The ward committee didn’t endorse in the 2021 District 3 race, in which Baker easily beat back a challenge from newcomer Stephen McBride with 63 percent of the vote. Baker’s best precinct was Ward 16 Precinct 12, which provided him with 692 votes, and is now in Worrell’s district. Baker’s second best was Ward 16 Precinct 9, which is known as one of the city’s most conservative precincts and remains in District 3. During this year’s redistricting process, Baker frequently noted that he previously lost precincts that backed him in his first Council race during the 2012 round of redistricting, too.

The new redistricting map also moves Ward 6 Precinct 1, Flynn’s best in the 2021 election, when he didn’t face an opponent, to District 3.

Whether the new map lines and the weeks of backbiting, punctuated by votes to raise City Council salaries, and Baker’s invocation of the Troubles, could lead to challengers in next year’s election is still up in the air. No one has publicly put their head above the parapet.

But if anybody wants to take on any of the incumbent councillors, they may be interested in taking advantage of the opportunity to fundraise before dollar limits reset in the new year. They’ll probably need to, since councillors have decently stocked campaign kittys.

Flynn, who also serves as the City Council president, has $455,818 in cash on hand as of October, the only councillor to come close to the $499,000 campaign account of Mayor Wu, according to publicly available campaign finance filings. He is also the only councillor, aside from his at-large colleague and South Boston neighbor Michael Flaherty, to have a six-figure number. Flaherty has $139,743 in cash on hand. Baker has $66,921, while Worrell has $10,068.

Fundraisers are already underway. Councillor At-Large Erin Murphy, a Dorchester resident who has $18,513 in her campaign bank account, has one planned for Wednesday night (Nov. 16) at The Industry. The restaurant, under the new redistricting map, remains in District 3, but just barely. For anybody who ambles across Adams Street, whether they’re heading to their car or the Eire Pub, they’ll find themselves in District 4, if they notice.

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