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Linehan keeps District 2 seat in recount

But councilor’s redistricting plan draws fire

By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / November 24, 2011
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Councilor Bill Linehan of South Boston prevailed yesterday in a recount for the District 2 seat he has held since 2007, but he faced questions in victory about a redistricting map he has proposed for the council.

The recount at City Hall showed Linehan had increased his margin over Suzanne Lee of Chinatown by 10 votes since ballots were originally counted Nov. 8, for a revised official total of 5,078 to 4,981.

But community activists and others questioned a proposed map from the council’s Redistricting Committee, chaired by Linehan, that would divide Chinatown and shift two precincts where Linehan was badly beaten by Lee to other districts.

A coalition that includes the NAACP, MassVOTE, and the Chinese Progressive Association sent a letter to the City Council yesterday that assailed the redistricting process and demanded more public input.

“It certainly looks like this district is being drawn to his advantage,’’ said Lydia Lowe, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, as she waited for the recount results.

“We have made a strong point about keeping Chinatown together . . . to create opportunities for historically underrepresented communities,’’ Lowe said. “The fact that Chinatown has been split in half is exactly the opposite of that.’’

Linehan stressed that the map is only a starting point and that changes are nearly certain to be made, probably as soon as a committee meeting scheduled for Monday.

“Since I was the chairman, I had to start from somewhere,’’ Linehan said.

Under the plan, District 2 would lose three precincts to districts represented by Michael Ross, Tito Jackson, and Councilor-elect Frank Baker. Linehan would add part of downtown now represented by Sal LaMattina.

In two of the three precincts, Linehan fared poorly against Lee.

In Ward 5, Precinct 1, which includes part of Chinatown and would shift to District 8 under Ross, Lee defeated Linehan, 713 to 172. In Ward 4, Precinct 3, a South End enclave that would be absorbed by Jackson in District 7, Lee topped Linehan, 197 to 40.

In the third precinct - Ward 7, Precinct 9 of Dorchester - Linehan beat Lee, 109 to 69.

Ross, a former council president, would be dramatically affected by the changes. To compensate for his new precinct from District 2, Ross would lose the Mission Hill neighborhood where he lives.

Ross was careful yesterday not to directly criticize Linehan’s proposal, but raised concerns.

“The redistricting process at all levels of government is one of the most important things we can do, and that process needs to be clear, accessible, and transparent,’’ Ross said. “It should not overly favor any one particular district or individual.’’

Under the map, Linehan would not lose any precincts from his South Boston stronghold, a high-turnout neighborhood that gave him overwhelming support. He needed that backing to overtake Lee, who bested him by 272 votes in the preliminary election in September.

Linehan said the map reflects a northerly movement of Boston’s population. He said Ross’s new precinct is a natural choice because all of Ward 5 would be in one district.

Linehan rejected the suggestion that he is trying to gerrymander the map to protect himself politically.

“It’s legitimate to ask the question, but that’s not the reason,’’ Linehan said. “It makes sense.’’

Lowe said the process, in which new districts must be approved by the spring, has been rushed and marred by poor public notice. In the coalition’s letter, which she cosigned with 17 other activists, the process is assailed as suffering “from insufficient advertising, limited outreach, and ill timing.’’

As a result, the letter continued, “the hearings have been poorly attended.’’

The group asked for at least one more hearing in January, in addition to six that have been held since September. The activists want draft maps by the end of January and at least three weeks of public comment before enactment.

A tenants’ advocate at Castle Square Apartments, a heavily Asian housing development in the South End near Chinatown, said she was disappointed in the proposal, which would sever the complex from District 2.

“We have a large Asian community, and we collaborate with Chinatown on a number of issues,’’ said Deborah Backus, executive director of the Castle Square Tenants Organization. “Everything comes down to political clout, and that’s the main purpose of keeping these communities together.’’

Jay Livingstone of the Ward 5 Democratic Committee said he has mixed feelings about the map.

“What I like about it is it would give Ward 5 one council member,’’ Livingstone said. “What I don’t like about it is it splits Chinatown.’’

Something had to change, Linehan said, to accommodate the city’s shifting demographics and create districts of similar population.

“I had the most people over’’ the population target, Linehan said, “so I had to cut the most.’’

After Monday’s hearing, he said, “I’m 90 percent sure the map will change, and we’ll generate another one.’’

MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com.

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