May 10, 2023
Mayor Michelle Wu plans to propose her own map redrawing the boundaries of the City Council’s nine district seats.
In a letter to councillors that arrived at noon Wednesday, Wu wrote, “In the coming days, my office will be submitting to your Honorable Body a new proposed redistricting map for consideration that provides a robust opportunity for all voters to see themselves represented and reflected on the City Council and prioritizes placing whole neighborhoods together within individual districts.”
During last fall’s contentious redistricting process, as the decennial redrawing of the boundaries is known, rumors of a map from Wu ran rampant within City Hall. But her administration never ended up formally proposing anything, and councillors passed their own map in a 9-4 vote.
That map has now been blocked by a federal judge, upending the city’s political scene. The judge, Patti Saris, said that opponents of the map had demonstrated a likelihood of success in a lawsuit over the map, and she kicked the matter back into the City Council's court.
Wu is aiming for the Council, fractured for months by squabbles between progressive and moderate/conservative camps, to pass a map on or before May 30. The Council, which typically has 13 members, is down a member due to Kenzie Bok leaving her District 8 seat to head up the Boston Housing Authority.
In her letter to councillors, Wu said May 30 is the latest date possible that would allow the city’s elections department to certify signatures, and print and mail ballots in time for the Sept. 12 preliminary election. The final election is scheduled for Nov. 7.
Wu’s announcement that she will enter the map-making fray came as part of a home rule petition that extends timelines for council candidates to file nomination papers.
The home rule petition also seeks to offer “clear rules for counting previously-submitted signatures, and make modifications to allow the Elections Department sufficient time to print ballots and prepare for mail-in, early, and overseas military voting.”
RELATED: After judge’s redistricting ruling, a scramble to respond and redraw
While the home rule petition, which will need approval from the state Legislature if it clears City Hall, landed in the Council’s Government Operations Committee, chaired by Hyde Park’s Ricardo Arroyo, the 12 councillors clashed over which committee should handle drawing up a new map. (The Council is down a member since Kenzie Bok resigned her District 8 seat last month to take the top job at the Boston Housing Authority.)
Council President Ed Flynn, whose District 2 is anchored in South Boston and needs to lose population in the redrawing of boundaries, sought to move redistricting to the Committee of the Whole, which he chairs. He noted that since the matter deals with litigation, the committee, which includes all councillors, should be its home.
But other councillors objected, and East Boston Councillor Gabriela Coletta and Dorchester/Mattapan Councillor Brian Worrell instead proposed the Committee on Civil Rights, which is chaired by Councillor At-Large Ruthzee Louijeune. The rest of the committee includes Councillor At-Large Erin Murphy as vice chair, and Arroyo and Coletta as members.
"I think she'd be a fair arbiter of this process,” Coletta said before the vote, adding that Louijeune is a lawyer with experience in redistricting matters.
Allston-Brighton Councillor Liz Breadon, who chaired the redistricting committee last fall, also said the matter should go to the Civil Rights Committee rather than the Committee of the Whole.
“There are four members of this body who funded the challenge to this map,” she said, referring to Councillors Michael Flaherty, Murphy, Flynn and District 3’s Frank Baker. All four have sent thousands of dollars from their campaign accounts to attorneys who sought to block the now-defunct map, which sliced up Adams Village and Neponset in precincts close to the Boston-Quincy border.
A few steps away, standing behind his chair, Baker clapped sarcastically, which prompted Flynn to ask councillors to be respectful to each other.
“We've got three weeks to get this squared away,” Breadon continued. “This is on us. We have to come together.”
Baker, who isn’t running for reelection this year, reiterated his contention that he had no say in the carving of District 3. “In the Committee of the Whole, we all have a say,” he said.
Murphy agreed, noting that Baker left his sister’s funeral to come to Wednesday’s Council meeting. “I trust this body and I trust we're up to the task that Judge Saris put back on us,” she said.
In an 8-4 vote, councillors sent redistricting to Committee on Civil Rights, with Baker, Murphy, Flaherty and Flynn as the “no” votes.
This post was updated after the City Council meeting.