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Redistricting squabble in Council

Councilors back Arroyo over chairmanships

Anna Lamb

Following weeks of scrutiny in the wake of reporting by the Boston Globe regarding his involvement in two sexual abuse cases as a teenager — one of which he was said to not have been directly involved in and the other of which has been concluded to be “unfounded” — City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo last week pressed to be reinstated to his committee leadership positions, of which he was stripped temporarily.

Arroyo, chair of the Government Operations and Redistricting committees, was removed from his leadership roles for 60 days by Council President Ed Flynn earlier this month, spurring contention from councilors of color who called the move unfair.

The two incidents the Globe stories connected to Arroyo occurred in 2005 and 2007, when the councilor was age 16 and 18, respectively. In the first incident he was named by an accuser as a perpetrator, and in the latter his name appeared in a report as someone who was present at a party that occurred the night a woman was assaulted while passed out. That woman, through her lawyer, said she twice told the Globe, before the paper published the allegations, that Arroyo had nothing to do with her assault.

A redacted police report on the 2005 accusation showed police determined it to be “unfounded.”

Flynn, who cited Globe reporting in his justification of the move, has declined to comment on whether Arroyo may be reinstated after the additional information was released.

At a City Council meeting the week prior, tensions boiled over as several councilors — including Julia Mejia, Kendra Lara and Tania Fernandes Anderson — pointed to the revocation of committee chairmanships as an example of bias and political sabotage.

Fernandes Anderson, whose comments have since ushered in their own backlash over her use of curse words, relayed fears from her constituents that removing Arroyo and having vice-chair Liz Breadon step up would undermine efforts to make voting districts more equitable.

“Everyone is now super-afraid that because Councilor Breadon, a white woman, has it … that because all the white councilors here stick together, that they will try to move the districts in a way that is not diverse sufficiently to be able to vote in electeds of color,” she said.

Fernandes Anderson has since doubled down on her comments from last week, telling the Banner, “I am concerned that we may not reach our goal of fully diversified districts, as we would if Ricardo had the position of chair.”

During last week’s meeting, several councilors spoke out in favor of having Arroyo reinstated, including Lara, who argued that the decision to oust Arroyo was unilateral by Flynn. In all, seven councilors — all councilors of color — support Arroyo’s reinstatement.

“Arroyo has broken no laws, no council rules and is under no investigation by any organization,” Lara said. “Sexual assault claims are serious, and they should be taken as such. With all the information that is available to us now, there is no reason to wait 60 days for consideration.”

Arroyo also spoke for himself Wednesday, saying he has received no communications from Flynn to date regarding why he was suspended. He called not only for his reinstatement, but also for increased communication between body members.

“I believe that what makes this body function at its best is a focus on process and rules … This process, frankly, lacked due process. There was a rush to judgment, there was a rush to decisions. And frankly, I’m still struggling with trying to understand why that rush occurred,” he said.

Flynn, who filed a motion to hold a hearing on council rules to discuss the matter among other things, fired back, saying his door is always open.

“I would welcome the opportunity for city councilors to come in and talk to me about any issue they have,” he said.

While quiet animosity bristled during the meeting, Breadon did not let that stop her from taking a step towards fulfilling her duties for the redistricting committee, filing an information request for population data from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). The request comes on the heels of Mayor Michelle Wu’s challenging of the results of the 2020 census count, which she says has drastically undercounted several of the city’s often overlooked demographics.

Those undercounted include incarcerated residents, students and immigrants.

Breadon’s information request asks for percentage changes in district populations between the 2010 and 2020 census to help inform decisions to be made about redistricting.

“Understanding the totality of change over time, present conditions, and projected future changes in the studied population and the built environment are essential considerations as we as we go about our redistricting process,” she said.

The council now has less than two months to finalize its redistricting decisions.

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