Mayor Menino can and should veto a City Council redistricting map that was approved by a narrow margin, 7-6, on August 22. From our vantage point in Dorchester and Mattapan, the newly drawn council seats further dilute the potential voting power of people of color in Dorchester’s District 3 and over-packs black and Latino voters into Dorchester and Mattapan’s District 4. Neither of these outcomes is desirable for our community.
On the other extreme, some activists have proposed a more dramatic change that would divide Dorchester north and south. This map also goes too far in the other direction, disrupting longstanding communities of interest like Savin Hill from Cedar Grove, Neponset and Lower Mills.
We do not subscribe to the theory that communities like Dorchester or Mattapan need to be “unified” in order to have effective representation. In fact, having two or more district councillors representing one section of the city can be a real asset.
People in Lower Mills and Ashmont, for example, can turn to both Councillor Frank Baker and Councillor Charles Yancey (in addition to their citywide councilors) when they need assistance on city issues in that section of Dorchester. Similiarly, Councillor Rob Consalvo has proven to be a strong advocate for Mattapan issues — including the push to improve Almont Park. Two voices on the council often are better than one in the case of Mattapan, which is ably served by both Consalvo and Yancey.
Likewise, Dorchester — which is too big to be unified into any one seat in Congress, let along the council— benefits mightily from having four councillors who cover our neighborhood: Yancey, Bill Linehan, Tito Jackson, and Baker, with the added bonus of the citywide voice of Ayanna Pressley. While they may not always agree on everything, they can be powerful advocates collectively when they team up, even as pairs, on specific issues.
What is more troubling in the local context is the “packing” of minority voters into Yancey’s seat, which is already well over 90 percent people of color, by “slicing” heavily minority precincts out of District 3. By jettisoning these heavily minority precincts out of the district, the redistricting plan not only reduces the pool of likely candidates, but also the potential influence of voters of color. Packing voters of one race into a single district clearly violates the intent of the redistricting laws and should not stand.
The influence of Dorchester’s growing population of people of color was illustrated by last year’s election cycle, in which two candidates of color stood for election for the then-vacant District 3 seat. While neither was successful, their presence in the race spoke to the neighborhood’s demographic changes and the potential for communities of color to have a more robust voice through the district office. Under the new map, both of those candidates of color would no longer live in District 3.
Redrawing the political boundaries of the city’s nine districts is undoubtedly a difficult task for any elected body. But, while there is still time to do so, the council should find a better compromise map that offers a better balance to our community’s changing demographics.
– Bill Forry