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Menino decries redistricting plan

Says Chinatown should not be split, as panel proposes

(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / November 25, 2011
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Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday panned a City Council redistricting plan that would divide Chinatown by shifting one of its precincts out of District 2, calling some features of the proposal “gerrymandering at its best.’’

“I don’t think Chinatown should be split,’’ Menino said, after appearing at a Thanksgiving feast at the Pine Street Inn. “It’s a community of interest.’’

The new map was proposed by Councilor Bill Linehan of South Boston, who barely squeaked to reelection in District 2 this month over a challenger from Chinatown, Suzanne Lee.

The election was so close that on Wednesday, Linehan faced a recount that confirmed he had prevailed, beating Lee by fewer than 100 votes. That same day, complaints surfaced about Linehan’s role as chairman of the City Council’s redistricting committee, which is assigned to adjust district boundaries to keep them proportionate after population shifts recorded by the latest census.

The plan would remove from District 2 three precincts in all - two of which Linehan lost to Lee.

They include Ward 5, Precinct 1, which includes part of Chinatown, and where Lee defeated Linehan 713 to 172. The South End’s Ward 4, Precinct 3 - which is now part of Linehan’s District 2, and where Lee beat him 197 to 40 - would also be removed from Linehan’s district. He would also lose Ward 7, Precinct 9 of Dorchester, where he won, 109 to 69.

A coalition including the NAACP and MassVOTE cried foul, saying the district appears to have been designed to benefit Linehan.

In an interview yesterday, Linehan described the plan as merely a rough draft that was expected to change as it was reviewed by the public and other councilors.

“This is not about me. This is about me creating a map with my colleagues - eventually one that can be accepted and voted upon that has new districts’’ that are proportionate in their representation and contiguous, he said.

Linehan said that it’s not necessarily the criticism of the map that will cause it to be altered ultimately.

“It’s a Rubik’s Cube - you move one precinct, a whole other series of precinct moves have to occur,’’ Linehan said.

The City Council census and redistricting committee next meets Monday.

Menino acknowledged that the redistricting map is only a starting point for debate, but said court challenges would arise if the city did not protect communities of interest.

“You just can’t gerrymander. This has been brought up before,’’ Menino said. “Councilor Linehan has worked hard on this. But now it’s time to get down to real facts and create a plan that works for the constituents of the city of Boston.’’

The Chinese Progressive Association, led by executive director Lydia Lowe, and others have called for a more open process and complained that most of the public hearings were conducted when the public was focused on the Nov. 8 election.

Linehan called that criticism unwarranted, saying that the association had participated in two of the hearings.

“They’ve made their statement. They’ve presented their position. And doesn’t Lydia Lowe still live in Cambridge?’’ Linehan said. “This is for the people of Boston to be discussing and working on.’’

Lowe, reached last night, responded, “Yeah, I live in Cambridge, and I’ve worked in Chinatown for 30 years. I used to live in Boston in the South End. It’s not about me personally. It’s about the residents of Chinatown and the South End that we work with.’’

She also noted that her group had been advocating more generally for a transparent redistricting process and for keeping communities intact. She said it was not clear when she testified on redistricting - or even until this week - that Chinatown could be divided by the redistricting proposal.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @stephanieebbert.

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