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Lawsuit takes aim at redistricting map

Councilors file affidavits alleging bias against whites in Dorchester

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Lawsuit takes aim at redistricting map
District 3 City Councilor Frank Baker speaks during a redistricting hearing.

A coalition of South Boston-based organizations and activists have filed a lawsuit against the Boston City Council in an attempt to overturn a redistricting map the body passed by a 9-4 vote on Oct. 26.

The lawsuit alleges the Council’s map is designed to dilute white voting power in the Dorchester-based District 3 and Black voting power in the Dorchester/Mattapan-based District 4. It also alleges the Council violated the state’s open meeting law.

Three of the four councilors who voted against the map —Ed Flynn, Erin Murphy and Frank Baker — filed affidavits in support of the lawsuit. Also signing on as plaintiffs are former City Councilor Maureen Feeney; Shirley Shillingford, who heads the Caribbean Carnival Association of Boston; and retired social worker Rita Dixon.

In her affidavit, Murphy, a Dorchester resident and at-large councilor, says the Council’s map, “destroys the Cedar Grove neighborhood” by moving it from District 3, represented by Baker, into the predominantly African American District 4, represented by Councilor Brian Worrell.

“The approved map is designed to diminish the voting power of white voters in City Council District 3, whose rights are sacred under the [Voting Rights Act] and the 14th Amendment,” Murphy wrote.

Murphy’s affidavit also asserts that District 3 has a “history of electing black officials,” citing among others the election of former state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. (In the March 2013 special-election Democratic primary for the seat, Dorcena Forry, who had represented Dorchester in the State House since 2005, won the election district-wide, but lost in Dorchester’s Ward 16 by a substantial margin to Nick Collins of South Boston.)

Baker, too, alleged that voters in his district do not vote along race lines.

“Based on the precinct-level election data analysis of my competitive elections in 2015 and 2021 as well as the most recent statewide 2022 general elections, no racial polarization exists in District Three,” Baker wrote in his affidavit.

Murphy also takes issue with her colleagues’ description of the “American blacks, Vietnamese, Cape Verdean, Haitian and Dominican people” as minorities protected under the Voting Rights Act.

“The accurate descriptor in the approved map is non-white,” she wrote.

In Flynn’s affidavit, the South Boston councilor doubles down on his contention that the map is dividing public housing developments in South Boston by moving some precincts with such developments into Dorchester-based District 3.

“Placing these residents out of District 2 punishes these public housing residents and dilutes their organizing power. It is unconscionable to separate these public housing developments from District 2, the Council district where these developments have traditionally been located,” Flynn wrote.

Under redistricting maps going back to the first nine-district map drawn in 1982, however, public housing residents in Dorchester, the South End and other neighborhoods have been divided in separate districts, and there are public housing units in all nine Council districts.

Among the alleged open meeting law violations cited in the complaint were an Oct. 10 meeting held at the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building and an Oct. 18 press conference held on City Hall Plaza. City councilors who attended both events said that neither was a City Council meeting and that no councilor spoke at either event.

The next court date for the case is scheduled for Dec. 7.