After judge’s redistricting ruling, a scramble to respond and redraw

A gathering of the 13-member City Council last fall. (Gintautas Dumcius photo)

Candidates for City Council district seats, who are gathering voter signatures for their runs for office, spent Tuesday in limbo as City Hall officials scrambled to react to a federal judge ordering councillors to create a new map of Boston’s political boundaries.

Near the end of the day, City Hall officials said they are reviewing options for extending certain filing deadlines for candidates.

The city has nine district seats that span Boston’s neighborhoods, in addition to four at-large councillors who run citywide. Councillors voted 9-4 last fall, in a split along progressive-conservative lines, that shifted precincts, and the thousands of people within them, between districts, including South Boston-based District 2 and Dorchester-based District 3, as part of an effort to create more opportunities for communities of color to elect the representative of their choice.

The four councillors who opposed the enacted map aided an effort in federal court to block the map from going into effect, claiming it unfairly rended communities in Neponset and Adams Village, areas known for their white conservative super-voters.

They secured a key victory on Monday through Judge Patti Saris’s ruling, which said map opponents had a likelihood of success in showing that race wrongly predominated the Council’s redistricting discussions. She granted a preliminary injunction that blocks the city from using the enacted map in this year’s elections and ordered incumbent councillors to make another attempt to drawing a map.

The ruling threw the city’s political scene into disarray, coming as candidates gathered signatures and incumbent councillors were primarily focused on hearings on the proposed city budget. District candidates on Tuesday were flying blind on the contours of their respective districts, and the deadline for filing nomination papers with voter signatures is May 23.

“You’re imperiling people by not figuring this out quickly,” said Larry DiCara, a former councillor at-large and a Dorchester native. “They’ve got to know where their districts are.”

The judge’s ruling is expected to come up during Wednesday’s Council meeting, and the timetable for a new map could emerge. The matter could end up in the Committee of the Whole, which is chaired by Council President Ed Flynn, who was part of the successful effort to strike down the enacted map in federal court.

On Tuesday morning, officials from Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office, which oversees Massachusetts elections, held a phone call with officials from the city’s legal department and elections department, according to a Galvin spokesperson. Seeking to offer guidance, Galvin officials laid out options such as moving key dates in the election cycle through special legislation.

There is precedent for election delays: In 1983, the state Legislature stepped in and the preliminary was delayed by two weeks and the general election was delayed one week in order to give councillors time to redraw the map. The delays stemmed from a lawsuit brought by the late Mel King, a former state representative and mayoral candidate, and a resulting court order that demanded councillors redraw district lines.

DiCara was a mayoral candidate in 1983 and recalls the drama surrounding the court order and city elections. He said councillors managed to fix the map within a few weeks. “Those districts, more or less, stayed put for a long, long time,” he said.

A source familiar with the City Hall discussions said the focus has been on getting the new round of redistricting, as the decennial redrawing of political boundaries is known, done as quickly as possible and avoiding a shift in the dates of the September and November elections.

To avoid such a shift, councillors who were bitterly at odds during last fall’s redistricting process will have to work quickly to pass a map in the coming weeks. Identical statements, sent from a Wu administration spokesperson to reporters and from Eneida Tavares, chair of the city’s board of election commissioners, to potential Council candidates, seemed to indicate as much.

“Following the recent court ruling, the City of Boston is reviewing options for extending filing deadlines and determining how it will address any resulting changes to district boundaries and treat nomination papers that have already been submitted,” the statement said.

“The City will seek to extend timelines for filing nomination papers and otherwise modify processes to ensure that potential candidates for the office of District City Council have an opportunity to run despite any unexpected changes as district lines are redrawn,” the statement continued. “Potential candidates should continue to file nomination papers at the Boston Elections Department.”

The statement ended by saying, “The City is committed to a speedy and smooth resolution to redistricting and to a clear and transparent election process.”

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