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Mayor Menino mulls Boston city redistricting vote

Kevin C. Peterson

Activists and voter rights advocates are urging Boston Mayor Tom Menino to oppose redistricting legislation before the deadline this week in hopes that it will not automatically become law and dilute the electoral strength of black, Latino and Asian voters.

The redistricting measure, passed into law recently by the Boston City Council by a slim 7-6 vote could hurt minority communities by dividing and packing so-called minority voters and suppressing their voting strength.

Last week, a number of organizations, including the Boston NAACP and the Boston Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under the Law, hinted that they would initiate a voting rights lawsuit if the redistricting law went into effect.

Political observers have said the Boston City Council’s vote was polarized along racial lines. Minority city councilors Ayanna Presley, Tito Jackson and Felix Arroyo opposed the bill.

“It hurts communities of color,” said at-Large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley.

“I just could not be personally [supportive] of the map that was presented. There was a [moral] imperative to be considered as well as the question about constitutionality and how we were dealing with emerging populations in the city.”

Jackson expressed disappointment over the council’s vote and hope that Mayor Menino would veto the legislation in order to produce redrawn districts that would fairly appreciate the increase in population of blacks, Latinos and Asians in Boston.

“I voted against it,” Jackson said. He represents District 7, which includes the neighborhoods of Roxbury, the South End, Fenway and parts of Mission Hill and Dorchester. “I felt it probably could not withstand constitutional scrutiny and that we could produce something better.”

Every 10 years the Boston City Council is required to redraw council districts that reflect changes in the citywide population growth and shifts within the city’s boundaries. The council must also attend to drawing district maps that reflect fairness for historically disenfranchised racial and ethnic groups.

City Council Bill Linehan, of South Boston, sponsored the legislation.

Linehan narrowly lost to Asian political activist Suzanne Lee last year. Many believe the changes made in Linehan’s legislation increase his chances of strongly winning re-election next year. Mayor Menino has until the end of this week to sign the bill. He has made few comments about where he is leaning.

Voting rights advocates have expressed dire concern about letting the legislation stand as the city council approved it.

Councilor Jackson and City Councilor Charles Yancey offered redistricting plans that differed from the one approved by the council. Councilor Jackson’s map called for cosmetic changes that would have slightly altered the current districts, including protecting the Chinatown neighborhoods.

Yancey presented a politically progressive map that would have created an incumbent-free district where either a Latino or Asian would have likely prevailed. Yancey has argued that while so-called minorities make up 53 percent of the city’s population, they represent only 26 percent of district seats on the council.

In the history of the Boston City Council, neither an Asian nor a Latino has been elected from a district seat.