Massachusetts' Redistricting News
Globe: "Uncontested in Boston." August 22, 2004
Despite the Massachusetts Democratic Party's sunny
explanation, we doubt that the dearth of minority candidates competing for
legislative seats in this fall's election means voters are happy with the
status quo. And the fact that 15 House seats in the Boston area are
uncontested this fall is no vindication of the legislative map that House
Speaker Thomas Finneran's redistricting committee developed last year. The districts were challenged by minority plaintiffs who said they were
drawn to minimize the chances of black or Hispanic candidates winning a
substantial number of seats despite Boston's large minority population. A
three-judge panel agreed in February and ordered the districts redrawn. Candidates may be slow to step forward, but there is still plenty to
suggest that voters are hungry for more choices. Many did not cast ballots
for any House candidate in the last statewide election. In Finneran's own
district, for example, 40 percent of the voters who came out to vote for
governor or other offices in 2002 "blanked" Finneran's office of
representative -- the only statement citizens can make when a candidate is
unopposed. That's 4,976 voters indicating they might have voted for
someone else if they'd had a chance. Because of the court challenges, the final district lines were not
known until April this year, too late for many candidates to get
organized, even though Secretary of State William Galvin extended filing
deadlines by two weeks. The only real challenges for House seats in 2004
are coming from Republicans recruited by Governor Romney, and they tend
not to compete in urban districts. The difficulties running for office against entrenched incumbents did
not disappear when the Boston districts were redrawn. Money is chief among
them. Finneran's torpedoing the Clean Elections Law, which would have
leveled the campaign finance playing field for new candidates, did at
least as much to discourage challenges as the confusion over district
lines. Still, it is worth remembering that mechanistic fixes such as
redistricting maps are no guarantee of greater minority participation;
they just make the game fairer. Good people who want to make a difference
in the lives of their neighbors still need to run. Otherwise voting rights
will remain an abstract concept fit for attorneys and cartographers, not
the lifeblood of opportunity.
Despite the Massachusetts Democratic Party's sunny explanation, we doubt that the dearth of minority candidates competing for legislative seats in this fall's election means voters are happy with the status quo. And the fact that 15 House seats in the Boston area are uncontested this fall is no vindication of the legislative map that House Speaker Thomas Finneran's redistricting committee developed last year.
The districts were challenged by minority plaintiffs who said they were drawn to minimize the chances of black or Hispanic candidates winning a substantial number of seats despite Boston's large minority population. A three-judge panel agreed in February and ordered the districts redrawn.
Candidates may be slow to step forward, but there is still plenty to suggest that voters are hungry for more choices. Many did not cast ballots for any House candidate in the last statewide election. In Finneran's own district, for example, 40 percent of the voters who came out to vote for governor or other offices in 2002 "blanked" Finneran's office of representative -- the only statement citizens can make when a candidate is unopposed. That's 4,976 voters indicating they might have voted for someone else if they'd had a chance.
Because of the court challenges, the final district lines were not known until April this year, too late for many candidates to get organized, even though Secretary of State William Galvin extended filing deadlines by two weeks. The only real challenges for House seats in 2004 are coming from Republicans recruited by Governor Romney, and they tend not to compete in urban districts.
The difficulties running for office against entrenched incumbents did not disappear when the Boston districts were redrawn. Money is chief among them. Finneran's torpedoing the Clean Elections Law, which would have leveled the campaign finance playing field for new candidates, did at least as much to discourage challenges as the confusion over district lines.
Still, it is worth remembering that mechanistic fixes such as redistricting maps are no guarantee of greater minority participation; they just make the game fairer. Good people who want to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors still need to run. Otherwise voting rights will remain an abstract concept fit for attorneys and cartographers, not the lifeblood of opportunity.
Although voting rights groups forced a major redrawing of Boston's House districts to increase minority political clout, no candidates of color have emerged to challenge the incumbents in any of the targeted districts this year.
Of the 17 House members representing districts in and around Boston, only two have major-party opponents in either the primary or general election this fall, and neither of those challengers is a minority candidate.
The plaintiffs won a federal lawsuit earlier this year on the grounds that African American and Hispanic voters were being denied their rights under the Voting Rights Act ''to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice."
Democratic Party leaders said the lack of opponents indicates that voters of all backgrounds are content with the incumbent lawmakers, including House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, who represents a district in which blacks and other minority groups are a majority of the voting age population. Finneran suffers from low statewide popularity ratings, but he has never faced serious opposition since his first election in 1978.
''It may very well be people are very happy with what they have," said Philip W. Johnston, the state's Democratic Party chairman. ''Each of the legislators is very popular. People don't like the Legislature, but they like their own legislators."
Representative Marie P. St. Fleur, a Dorchester Democrat and the first Haitian-born American to hold a House seat in Massachusetts, questioned whether the lawsuit was necessary.
''I can't say it was bogus," St. Fleur said of the suit's arguments that minorities were being shut out of the process. ''But the result speaks for itself. I would have spent the energy to organize the base, rather than to pursue a legal challenge."
Those who brought the suit said they were disappointed, but not surprised, to see that candidates have not emerged. They laid much of the blame on the timing of the court decision earlier this year. The final court-mandated redrawing of the districts was completed just weeks before the May deadline by which candidates had to file papers to run.
The process held back potential challengers, who needed more certainty before mounting campaigns, the plaintiffs said.
''Yes, a lot of us are very disappointed," said George Pillsbury, policy director of MassVOTE, one of the lead plaintiff groups in the case. ''That is a question that a lot of people are asking: What the heck is happening with the candidates?"
A three-judge panel concluded in February that the redistricting plan drawn up by Finneran's leadership team deprived minorities of their voting rights. The judges said that, among other inequities, the House plan packed minority voters into an already heavily minority district in Roxbury, while shifting minority voters from nearby districts, including Finneran's.
Lawyers who argued the case for the voting rights groups said it is unfair to assess the impact of the case through just one election cycle. Burton A. Nadler, a lawyer who served on the plaintiffs' team, said the more equitable district lines ordered by the court will generate new candidates in future years, though he, too, expressed some disappointment that so many incumbents will sail to reelection without opposition this fall.
''The newly drawn districts will be an incentive for the members of the community to develop candidates to establish a base of support and challenge incumbents," Nadler said. ''It takes time for a community to discern who their leaders are and who would be best to represent their interests."
Several minority candidates considered running this year, with a few collecting the necessary number of signatures. Francisco Trilla, a doctor who is Latino, was ready to challenge Representative Elizabeth A. Malia, Democrat of Jamaica Plain, whose district was a focus of the voting rights groups' effort and now has minorities making up a majority of the voting age population. But Trilla faced a residency problem and could not qualify for the ballot.
Pillsbury indicated the problem is not confined to Boston. A study by his group shows that, across Massachusetts, only one-third of the House seats in urban areas are contested this year, compared with two-thirds of the seats in suburban and wealthier areas.
Pillsbury also expressed disappointment with the lack of Latino candidates in the city of Chelsea, where the US Justice Department ordered a district election for School Committee, replacing an at-large system. The new map, which has eight districts, had at least two majority Latino districts, but no Latino candidates have come forward.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin said his office launched an outreach effort to make sure potential minority candidates are aware of the process and the requirements for candidacy. Galvin extended the filing date two weeks beyond the April 27 deadline. The plaintiffs had asked the federal court to extend the filing deadline six weeks, but lost that bid. The final district lines were not agreed upon until early April.
Only three incumbents from districts in and around Boston face challenges. Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty, a Democrat from Chelsea who also represents Charlestown, faces opposition in the primary from Democrat Kathryn Duggan, a white woman. Representative Angelo M. Scaccia, a Democrat from Readville, is being challenged by Camillo Giangrande III, a Republican white male. An independent candidate is running against Representative Anthony Petruccelli, Democrat of East Boston.
By the end of next year, if all goes well, Iraq will be governed by lawmakers chosen in free and competitive elections. That will give the Iraqi people something the vast majority of Americans don't have: lawmakers chosen in free and competitive elections.
We tell ourselves that we live in the world's greatest democracy, one whose government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. In fact we live in nothing of the sort, at least as far as our national legislature is concerned. Thanks to modern gerrymandering, most congressional districts have been turned into a Democratic or Republican monopolies -- constituencies meticulously mapped to lock in one-party supermajorities and guarantee election results long before voters go to the polls.
The race for president may be a nail-biter, but the outcome of all but a handful of congressional races is a foregone conclusion: The incumbent will be reelected. All 435 US House seats are on the ballot this November, but no more than 30 or so are genuinely up for grabs. Of California's 53 districts, only one could arguably go either way. Only two out of 29 districts in New York are in play. Only one out of 25 in Florida.
In 1994, 90 percent of US House members running for reelection retained their seats. That, believe it or not, marked a modern high-water mark for electoral competitiveness. In 1996, the incumbent reelection rate was up to 94 percent. Two years later, it hit 98 percent. It has been there ever since.
In 2002, a grand total of eight representatives lost their bids for reelection. Close to one-fifth of the House had no major-party opposition. So blatantly are districts gerrymandered to maximize a majority for one party or the other that the average winning candidate receives more than 70 percent of the vote. The framers of the Constitution designed the House of Representatives to be the most responsive branch of government, the one most likely to change with shifts in public opinion. They would not recognize the undemocratic body of lawmakers-for-life it has become. But veterans of the old Supreme Soviet certainly would.
Redistricting abuse is as old as the republic. In 1812, when Republican Elbridge Gerry was governor of Massachusetts, his allies in the Legislature redrew the state's congressional map to favor their party at the expense of the Federalists. Outraged Federalists denounced the new map's oddly shaped districts, especially one in Essex County that resembled a salamander. One cartoonist drew it with a head, wings, and claws and mockingly dubbed it a Gerry-mander.
Alas, gerrymanders cannot be killed by mockery. The politicians of 1812 are gone, but their 21st-century successors still torture electoral maps for partisan advantage. Rarely do voters today get a chance to pick their lawmakers. On the contrary, it is lawmakers -- armed with sophisticated computer software and databases -- who pick their voters. Invincible incumbents are one result. Freakish-looking districts are another. But those aren't the only ill effects.
As elections become increasingly meaningless, fewer citizens bother to vote. As incumbency becomes a permanent entitlement, fewer challengers run. With no fear of losing, lawmakers become more arrogant and imperious, less open to compromise. Why moderate your stance or reach out to the center when there is no penalty to pay for digging in your heels? It isn't negative advertising or special-interest money that makes Congress so polarized and dysfunctional. It is the disappearance of competitive elections thanks to hyperpartisan redistricting.
The rancor caused by gerrymandering run amok isn't limited to Washington. When Texas Republicans redrew House seats last year for the second time since 2000, furious Democrats fled the state to deny the GOP the quorum it needed in the Legislature. Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Georgia are some of the other states where political storms have erupted over egregious redistricting power plays.
The solution to all this is obvious: Take the mapping power away from the politicians and give it to an independent commission. Several states already do this, most notably Iowa, which entrusts redistricting to its Legislative Service Bureau, a neutral agency. The bureau is required by law to draw districts that are equal in population, don't divide towns or counties, and are compact and contiguous -- all without regard to party registration or any other political data. Result? Iowa districts are consistently more competitive than those in most of the country.
Voices on both sides of the political divide are increasingly urging the states to adopt the Iowa solution. The spirit of reform has sprouted even in Massachusetts, where Common Cause is building support for a constitutional amendment to create an independent mapmaking commission. Sure, the birth of democracy in Iraq would be a fine development, but an end to election-rigging in the state that gave "gerrymander" to the English language? That would really be something to see.
voters simply go to the polls and choose between the available candidates.
They may complain about the quality of the candidates or the lack of
competition, but they rarely think about why the choices are so
unsatisfying. In the last two years, majorities that
control state legislatures in Texas and Colorado have redrawn lines for
the express purpose of increasing the number of Republicans sent to
Congress. Here in Massachusetts, the Democrats who run the state
Legislature have redrawn district lines to help deliver an all-Democratic
delegation to the U.S. House. They have used the same techniques to build
and maintain their veto-proof majorities in both houses of the state
In the last two years, majorities that
control state legislatures in Texas and Colorado have redrawn lines for
the express purpose of increasing the number of Republicans sent to
Congress. Here in Massachusetts, the Democrats who run the state
Legislature have redrawn district lines to help deliver an all-Democratic
delegation to the U.S. House. They have used the same techniques to build
and maintain their veto-proof majorities in both houses of the state
In a federal district court this morning, a three-judge panel will hear another round of oral arguments in the Boston redistricting case. Nearly two months ago, the court struck down the plan devised by the state House of Representatives, finding that it violated the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting minority representation in Boston. Some $3 million in taxpayer dollars has already been spent defending a plan the court said turned "a blind eye to the racial implications of its single-minded effort to protect incumbents at virtually any social cost."
In its efforts to protect incumbents, the Massachusetts House is, sadly, not alone. Last year in Texas, Democratic legislators twice fled the state to block a redistricting plan that handed half a dozen Democratic congressional seats to Republicans. Texas had already completed its redistricting process in 2001. But Republican leaders, not satisfied with their gains, took another bite at the apple in 2003 to all but eliminate Democratic Party representation. A Pennsylvania plan was so lopsided that it is now before the US Supreme Court. There are many other examples.
In fact, the term "gerrymander" was coined in Massachusetts in 1812 when Governor Elbridge Gerry endorsed an electoral district said to look like a salamander. But with increasingly sophisticated technology that allows political map makers to slice and dice districts by street and by all types of voting demographics, gerrymandering is increasingly frequent and effective.
Yet gerrymandering -- unless it results in districts that are unequal in population or that, as in the Boston case, disenfranchise minority voters -- is not illegal. It should be. Beyond the clear unfairness, and the partisan advantages gerrymandering confers on the party in control of State Houses, it is killing democracy.
Congressional elections sport competitiveness rates on a par with elections Cuba and the old Soviet Union. In the 2002 congressional elections, only 40 out of the 435 House races were considered competitive. Only eight incumbents were defeated, four of whom were pitted against other incumbents. Here in Massachusetts, we are tied for last in the nation for legislative competitiveness for the past three election cycles, with more than two-thirds of our legislative seats uncontested. No state Senate incumbent has lost in four elections.
Although elections may be uncompetitive for many reasons -- including money in politics and the declining prestige of political service -- the role of incumbent protection through the redistricting process is undeniable. Thanks to the wizardry of computer programs that draw incumbent-safe districts with ease, the current process of redistricting is nothing short of democracy on its head: Elected officials picking their voters instead of the other way around.
There is a solution. Several states have successfully experimented with taking redistricting out of, or, in some cases, partially out of, self-interested legislative hands and placing it in an independent redistricting commission. Iowa has a nonpartisan body draw the district lines without respect to where incumbents live and then allows the Legislature to vote up or down on a series of plans. Arizona's newly established independent redistricting commission conducts the process from inception to completion.
Despite some shortcomings, the data are clear: Independent commissions produce fewer gerrymandered districts with more electoral competition. Eleven states conducted redistricting through a commission in 2002, and the average competitiveness of the districts, 70.4 percent, was significantly higher than the roughly 50 percent produced by legislative bodies. Iowa had more competitive congressional races than California, New York, and Illinois combined, despite the latter states having 20 times more seats.
The most difficult part of the equation is the task of selecting commissioners. Arizona uses its nonpartisan appellate court nominating commission to create a pool of candidates, none of whom can be an elected official or state employee. Iowa uses its nonpartisan tenured legislative research bureau, something we don't have in Massachusetts. Enforceable redistricting criteria such as compactness and competition, along with equal population and minority representation, are key to keeping communities intact and rationalizing the process. In addition, the process must be a public one. Paradoxically, technology may provide part of the answer by allowing voting rights groups or even high school students to draft and submit plans for review.
Massachusetts should take the best of other states' ideas and create a more open and fair process for drawing congressional and legislative districts. Political gerrymandering was pioneered here, and we should be one of the first states to end the practice. In doing so we can turn democracy right-side up again, with voters selecting their representatives and not the other way around.
Some officials south of Boston are worried that court-ordered redistricting of House districts in Boston will affect suburban districts, too.
"I'm sure we'll be affected, but what the effect will be we just don't know," said James G. Mullen Jr., Milton's town clerk and chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
James F. Burgess Jr., a Randolph selectman, said the Legislature might try to carve up Randolph more than it already is to solve its problems in Boston.
"I believe you are going to see the Legislature still try to protect the incumbents," said Burgess, who sued the state after the current district lines were established in 2001. "When that happens, it doesn't bode well for the citizens of the Commonwealth."
Last week, a three-judge federal panel threw out the state House of Representatives' district map for Boston. The court ruled that the lines the Legislature approved two years ago for the 17 districts in Boston had disenfranchised minority voters in the city.
One of the districts singled out by the court was the 12th Suffolk, which extends from the Dorchester and Mattapan sections of Boston to three precincts in Milton. The district, now represented by House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran of Mattapan, gained white voters when it was stretched south from its heavily minority urban base to largely white areas of East Milton.
The Legislature has six weeks to draw new district lines. Secretary of State William F. Galvin has said the changes could affect 30 or more districts.
Joseph P. McEttrick, a Suffolk University law professor and former Milton selectman, said Milton and other suburbs could become more fragmented in the process.
"The real problem is that once you make changes in the core, it has domino effects," McEttrick said. "Everything is in play, in one sense."
Finneran and other legislative leaders have been noncommittal about how they will approach the task, other than to say they will comply with the court ruling.
The plaintiffs in the court case, a coalition of Boston civil rights groups, contend that the problems in the Boston districts can be remedied without forcing big changes on the suburbs.
"It could affect a few precincts here and there, but it is not going to have a big impact south of Boston," said George Pillsbury, policy director for Boston VOTE, one of the organizations that brought the court case.
Pillsbury did say that the lines in Milton will have to be redrawn to increase the minority presence in Finneran's district. The problem could be solved by putting one or two of Finneran's Milton precincts in the district of Representative Martin J. Walsh of Dorchester, according to Pillsbury.
That possibility is unsettling to some officials in Milton, who sued unsuccessfully after the 1990 redistricting, which split the town into three different House districts.
"To get to Marty Walsh, Milton would be an island," said Charles J. McCarthy, a Milton selectman. He said he fears Milton could become as fragmented as neighboring Randolph, which is in three different legislative districts.
Burgess said he doubts that the Legislature would graft a section of Milton onto Walsh's district. The Randolph selectman said it is more likely that Finneran's precincts would be given to Representative Walter F. Timilty, Democrat of Milton, who would lose the part of his district that is in Randolph.
Burgess, who dropped his lawsuit against the 2001 redistricting after he concluded it would not succeed, said he would like to see Randolph's fragmentation corrected in the current process.
He pointed out that Randolph is the most racially diverse community in the Boston suburbs and also the most populous municipality in the state that does not have its own state representative.
In other communities bordering Boston, there is less concern about the redistricting.
City Clerk Joseph P. Shea of Quincy said the only district that could be affected in his city is the First Norfolk, now represented by Bruce J. Ayers of North Quincy. That district borders Walsh's at the Neponset River bridge.
"If they squeeze districts out of Boston, it could come into Quincy, but it will be a stretch," Shea said.
James A. MacDonald, a Dedham selectman, said he does not believe that his town will be affected by the Boston redistricting.
In 2001, the district now represented by Robert K. Coughlin of Dedham was stretched south from Dedham and Westwood into a section of Walpole.
The problem in Massachusetts just might be that judges aren't "activist" enough. Forget gay marriage. Consider the decision of a panel of federal judges to relegate to a footnote conduct by House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran that skates perilously close to perjury.
Judicial skepticism about Finneran's sworn testimony came in an appeals court decision last week that ordered lawmakers to redraw the lines of Boston's 17 legislative districts to correct the disenfranchisement of the city's black voters.
On the stand in federal court last November and in a previous deposition, Finneran had insisted that he exerted no influence on the 2001 plan that the three-judge panel rejected on Wednesday as racially biased. In fact, the speaker testified, he did not see any part of the plan, including his own district, until it was unveiled by committee chairman Thomas M. Petrolati, a Democratic state representative from Ludlow.
Despite an increase in Boston's non-white population from 1990 to 2000, the redistricting plan reduced the number of black districts and increased the number of white ones. A coalition of civil rights groups successfully argued that what the judges called the "single-minded effort to protect incumbents at virtually any social cost" was a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
"Although Speaker Finneran denied any involvement in the redistricting process, the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests the opposite conclusion," the US District Court three-judge panel observed. "For one thing, he handpicked the members of the committee and placed Petrolati at the helm. For another thing, he ensured that the committee hired his boyhood friend and longtime political collaborator Lawrence DiCara as its principal functionary. Last -- but far from least -- Finneran's in-house counsel, John Stefanini, had the Maptitude software installed on his computer in the speaker's office suite and was one of only four legislative staffers who received training in how to use the software."
Add Finneran's failure under oath to recall everything from the name of his district (the 12th Suffolk) to its racial makeup (74 percent minority before and 60 percent after redistricting eliminated black precincts in Mattapan and added white voters in Milton) and you have enough "circumstantial evidence" to warrant a perjury inquiry, an impeachment investigation, or both.
It is one thing for Finneran to play fast and loose with the truth in a legislative chamber that appears incapable of calling him to account. It is another still for him to display such contempt in a court case about something as fundamental as the right of minority voters to equal access to the electoral process.
This is hardly the first time the speaker has thumbed his nose at the judiciary. When the state Supreme Judicial Court ordered him to fund a campaign finance system approved by the voters in 1998, he used his budgetary authority to block it until he could engineer the law's repeal. Since the SJC ruled the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, he has denounced "activist judges" for usurping the role of lawmakers, a role he abandoned himself by thwarting efforts for years to enact legislation to protect the rights of same-sex couples.
Finneran's implausible memory lapses and questionable testimony about the redistricting process ought to tip the scales at last against his leadership. His King Tom routine is an insult to the very institution, the people's house, that he is sworn to serve.
"In an ideal world, redistricting is a legislative prerogative, and we are hesitant to impose a remedy without first affording the Legislature an opportunity to act," the federal judges wrote. They gave Finneran six weeks to act to protect the rights of black voters, just as the SJC gave him until May to do the same for gay couples. Isn't it time to take note that, for Speaker Finneran, legislative action and obstruction of justice amount to pretty much the same thing.
A state lawmaker Thursday defended a redistricting plan rejected by a federal appeals court, denying legislative leaders tried to weaken the clout of black voters by packing them into as few districts as possible.
Speaker Thomas Finneran also defended the protection of incumbents as one of several factors lawmakers are entitled to use when drawing new electoral maps. He said he was surprised by the tone of the ruling, which was harshly critical of House leaders.
"I think the language is completely out of bounds for a variety or reasons," Finneran told The Associated Press. "The decision embraced an academic theory of voting that history refutes."
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ordered lawmakers to redraw 17 Boston districts, saying Democratic House leaders sacrificed "racial fairness to the voters on the altar of incumbency protection." The court gave lawmakers six weeks to submit a redrawn map.
Minority activists who challenged the map said the speaker misunderstood the ruling.
"He doesn't get that it's really a victory for voters," Atiya Dangleman, program director of Boston VOTE. "The plaintiffs are representing voters who have had their rights denied by an unfair plan. I don't think the language of the courts was in any way overly rough or out of bounds, given the facts."
Finneran said the court underestimated the ability of Boston voters to look past race when choosing candidates. Finneran, who is white, has represented a majority black district for 25 years. State Rep. Byron Rushing, who is black, represents a district that is predominantly white.
"There's no brush out there that says black people vote this way and white people vote that way," he said.
Considering the election needs of incumbents, among other factors, is not only legitimate but has been recognized by other courts, the speaker said.
"Every court decision that's ever come down under the National Voting Rights Act acknowledges that incumbency is a legitimate interest," he said. "I don't think the court is suggesting that incumbency is a non-issue. If they are, they are writing new law."
A federal appeals court on Tuesday blocked elections in Boston this fall for 17 state House seats, saying a redistricting map approved by lawmakers in 2001 deprived black voters of their constitutional rights.
The three-judge panel ordered lawmakers to submit a new plan for the districts within six weeks.
The judges determined the redistricting plan deprives black voters of equal opportunity "to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice."
Secretary of State William Galvin warned candidates to stop collecting signatures, due April 27, until a new map is in place.
"I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that it throws the electoral process into chaos," Galvin said. "For those legislators who are in these districts, it creates a great deal of uncertainty about their political futures."
Plaintiffs who challenged the map last year claimed it violated the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. They did not have to show blatant discrimination, only that the final plan had a discriminatory effect, according to the ruling issued by the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.
While the map provides white voters with a number of majority white districts, it "fails to provide African-American voters with a proportional number of majority black districts," the judges wrote.
Activists who brought the suit said they were encouraged by the decision.
"This is a textbook case of packing people of color into as few districts as possible, minimizing their opportunity to elect a representative of their choice," said Atiya Dangleman, program director of Boston VOTE.
Some of the districts affected by the ruling are held by top House leaders, including House Speaker Thomas Finneran, House Majority Leader Salvatore DiMasi and Judiciary Committee Chairman Eugene O'Flaherty, all Democrats.
A spokesman for Finneran offered reporters a statement from Democratic state Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee.
Petrolati defended the map-making process, noting the committee held five public hearings before drafting the final version.
"Committee members designed a redistricting map that met the three court requirements of keeping together communities of interest, not deviating population by more than 5 percent and making districts contiguous," he said, promising to draft a new map by the court's deadline.
The judges also criticized the House for drawing the map to protect veteran House members "without pausing to investigate the consequences of its actions for minority voting opportunities."
Boston's minority population exceeded 50 percent for the first time in the 2000 Census.
Christian Science Monitor
Two cases in Massachusetts and one in Pennsylvania raise key questions about the way lawmakers shape voting districts.
The fights are just as fierce and the outcomes equally crucial - but this time, more are losing battles. The proliferation of voter redistricting cases that began in the 1980s and '90s has continued on into the 21st century. But since the 2000 census, significantly fewer have succeeded in challenging districts they deemed unfair: only 22 percent have resulted in court-ordered modifications, compared with 35 percent in the 1990s.
Theories abound about what's changed. Lower-court judges, some say, have been wary of ruling in highly politicized redistricting cases since the US Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore drew intense criticism as politically motivated. Others say legislators better grasp the law after three modern redistricting cycles and numerous challenges.
Republican dominance in Congress probably also plays a role, as Republicans have historically challenged districts more often than the Democrats, now the underdogs. The change also follows a series of Supreme Court cases in the 1990s that reined in redistricting that favored minority groups - coupled with the facts that in recent years more candidates of color have been elected and voting along color lines has declined, making racial discrimination harder to prove.
Whatever the cause, the trend has raised the bar for challenges following the 2000 census, making the major court battles now under way - from a Pennsylvania gerrymandering case before the Supreme Court to two minority vote-dilution cases in Boston - particularly worth watching.
"There are so many fewer cases getting serious consideration this time around that the ones that do have to stand out in some way from those we've seen over the past 30 years," says Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services in Washington, DC.
In some ways, the Boston case, Black Political Task Force et al. v. William Francis Galvin, looks like a classic race-based redistricting fight. Plaintiffs claim it's no accident white incumbent Thomas Finneran, Speaker of the Massachusetts House, appointed two old friends to chair the House redistricting committee and redraw lines to replace three heavily black precincts in his district with three overwhelmingly white ones.
Cases of this sort have been the norm, particularly since the 1990s Supreme Court challenges clarified the impact of the 1965 Voting Rights Act on racial gerrymandering - or the redrawing of voting districts to favor a particular political or ethnic group. Invariably, defendants in such cases argue, as Speaker Finneran's counsel did, that drawing districts to protect incumbents - of any race - is as old as the country itself, and though distasteful to many, it's legal unless a state forbids it. Massachusetts does not.
Still, the case raises a question sure to be central to the redistricting fights that follow: that of legislative privilege. Much of the legislature's defense in the case rested on this legal principle, which protects members of Congress from having to reveal how legislative proceedings take place. Plaintiffs' lawyers argue that the principle is a sound one, but not when applied to redistricting from which legislators directly benefit. "Voting is the way that people express their displeasure with their legislature, so the legislature should think they're being watched during redistricting," says Heather Butterfield, an attorney for the plaintiff.
The second Boston-area case, Meza et al. v. William Francis Galvin, is part of what redistricting-watchers call the field's most important trend, given the nation's soaring Latino population. The case "raises the question: 'Is there life in the [federal Voting Rights] Act for this decade, and are we going to see more life in it, particularly for the emerging Latino community?' " says Rob Richie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy in Takoma Park, Md.
Meza plaintiffs seek to have recent growth in Massachusetts' Latino population represented in the state's tally of majority-Latino districts. What happened in the 2000 plan, they say, is just the opposite: While the state's Latino population grew to 1-1/2 times its 1990 size, and other minority groups grew as well, the number of minority-dominated districts shrank from 10 to eight.
Defendants in the case argue that though the total Latino population grew, so much of that growth was among illegal migrants and children that the growth in voting-age Latino citizens was negligible - only about 3 percent in a decade. Plaintiffs say citizenship is irrelevant, and that representation should be decided on the basis of total voting-age population. A few US states have considered the question and disagreed, naming citizen population as the guideline. If Massachusetts judges rule differently, the case could be on its way to the US Supreme Court. Both Boston-area cases were tried before a three-judge panel this winter; decisions are expected this month.
Meantime, in December the Supreme Court heard Vieth v. Jubelirer, a Pennsylvania case in which Democrats argue that a 2000 Republican redistricting plan gives the GOP an "unconstitutional" number of House seats - 12 or more of 19 seats in a state evenly divided between the parties. A similar case in Texas drew national attention in 2003 when state legislators fled the state to stall passage of an unorthodox mid-cycle plan that favored its Republican authors.
But while the federal Voting Rights Act has long given some guidance in race-based gerrymandering cases, the nation's courts have offered almost none on politically partisan gerrymandering.
"If the Supreme Court were to limit partisan gerrymandering, many states would come under that law," says Tim Storey, a redistricting expert at the National Council of State Legislatures in Denver.
Whatever the outcome of this particular case, the Supreme Court's apparent willingness to hear redistricting cases - more than a dozen over the past 10 years - "tells you a lot about the transitional nature of the law in this area," Storey says.
Attorneys for the state asked a panel of US District Court judges yesterday to dismiss a Latino group's challenge to the legislative redistricting plan for Chelsea and East Boston.
Steven P. Perlmutter, a lawyer for Secretary of State William F. Galvin, asked the three judges for summary judgment in the state's favor in the lawsuit over the Legislature's 2001 plan to reorganize voting districts.
The suit, filed by an organization called Oiste? and Chelsea residents, claims the plan to split Chelsea and East Boston would reduce Latinos' voting power and violate the federal Voting Rights Act, which guarantees minorities equal treatment when political boundaries are redrawn.
Giovanna Negretti of Oiste? -- which means ''Are you listening?'' in Spanish -- said districts need to give Latinos the chance to elect a candidate from their own community. ''That's what democracy is all about,'' she said.
The Black Political Task Force and Oiste? claim in a separate lawsuit that the plan dilutes black and Latino voting power in Boston. The state has not asked for summary judgment in that case.
Boston is a city in the midst of change. Whether it be the new convention center, renovations to Fenway park, the revitalization of the newly named SoWa district or the slowly emerging benefits of the Big Dig, Boston is not the city that it was ten, five or even two years ago. Nothing is more representative of this than the cityís changing demographics. Long a bastion of white privilege, New Englandís premier city is now over 50 percent minority. And with this demographic shift comes changing expectations for Bostonís future. Bostonís communities of color are looking to finally play a larger role in the cityís decision making processes and if recent political victories like the swearing in of Bostonís first Latino city councilor or the election to the State House of Jeffrey Sanchez over two white opponents are any example, minority residents are finally beginning to get their wish.
This is not to say that the struggle is over, however. As the first two installments in this series have pointed out, Boston has a long history of segregation and inequality of opportunity ñ inequality in the economic, educational and political realms ñ that is unlikely to disappear over night. Furthermore, numerous interviews conducted over the past six months have shown that, recent political victories not withstanding, Boston is still very much perceived by its communities of color as, in the words of Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) Executive Director John Barros, ìa cold, segregated city" with ìan incredibly limited amount of choices."
The challenge today is to change this perception and to do so in a meaningful way that moves beyond mere public relations campaigns and token reforms and instead cuts straight to the heart of the problems at hand. So the question becomes, what can be done to engender real, lasting change in Boston? How can we be seen once more as the ìCity Upon a Hill?"
Matters arenít made any better by the fact that BPS is looking at a fiscal year 2004 (FY04) funding shortfall of roughly $120 million. Brought about by a $55 million dollar increase in fixed costs and a drastic reduction in local aid from the state, BPS is planning system-wide cuts that will result in the loss of 500-700 jobs. Whatís worse is the fact that this comes at a time when Bostonís schools are in desperate need of massive capital investment.
î[Our] schools are in a mess," says City Councilor Chuck Turner, chair of the councilís education committee. ìIt would take $200 million to just repair the infrastructure."
A presentation given by local middle school student Brittany McCullough at a community meeting held last week in Jamaica Plain drove home the point quite clearly. McCullough showed the gathered residents, activists and politicians images of classroom doorknobs being held in place by duct tape, doors with cracked and broken glass panes, bathrooms with broken fixtures and missing mirrors and an auditorium with deteriorating seating and a crumbling concrete floor. And because minority students make up a disproportionate number of BPSí enrollment, these disturbing conditions have a much greater impact on Bostonís minority communities than they do on the cityís white community. After all, money plays more than one roll in educational quality. For those wealthy families stuck in communities with floundering public school systems, private schools are always a way out. However, due to the lower median incomes of minority households (nationally black and Hispanic households have median incomes of less than $34,000 as compared to more than $44,000 for white households), this escape is not equally available to students of color.
îThe dilemma in the schools is racism," says Turner. ìThe majority of the students are of color so [reinvestment in the schools] is not a priority."
What is a priority are lower taxes. Apart from the $55 million increase in fixed costs between FY03 and FY04 (an eight percent increase due largely to increases in employee salaries and benefits but also due to the opening of new facilities), the real culprit in BPSí budget crunch is a drastic reduction in local funding from the state.
The BPS is a department of the City of Boston and gets the majority of its funding from two sources: the city itself and grants from the state government. The state, facing huge budget problems of its own, has promised not to cut spending on education. In fact, Governor Romney has actually proposed an increase in state educational aid. This proposal is somewhat deceptive, however.
While the Governor is promising increases to local educational aid, which in Boston would amount to roughly $40 million, he is also drastically slashing local aid to the stateís cities and towns. This means that local governments will have less money to divide up among all its essential services ñ police and fire services, public works, and education, for instance. The result in Boston is $108 million less for the BPS, which translates directly into those 500-700 lost jobs. Unfortunately for Bostonís immigrant communities, many of these cuts are coming in areas that they can least afford to lose ñ bilingual teachers and parent liaisons.
Besides the obvious difficulties that a difference in language poses for immigrant children ñ difficulties meant to be addressed by bilingual teachers ñ language plays a role in the fact that many immigrant parents are much less involved in their childrenís education than non-immigrant parents.
As Andres Torres, director of UMass Bostonís Gaston Institute, points out, ìLatino parents are not part of the educational system. They donít feel welcomed by principals and teachers. And they are not involved in the PTA."
Parent liaisons are administrative assistants whose role it is to lessen this unfortunate feeling of exclusion. They act as translators for parents, who do not speak fluent English, and serve to help acclimatize recent immigrants to a new, and potentially alienating, school system. Itís a service that is absolutely essential in providing all the cityís communities with equal access to the tools that people need to succeed in our society. Unfortunately with a school system being forced to make budget cuts, parent liaisons are often first on the chopping block, leaving those children most likely to be left behind at a further disadvantage.
Last month, 64 Fortune 500 companies with combined revenues of over a trillion dollars filed a brief with the US Supreme Court, stating, ìIt is necessary that members of all segments of our society receive the education and training they need to become the leaders of tomorrow." If this is the case, and if ìNo Child Left Behind" is going to continue to be our governmentís policy when it comes to education, then we are going to have to start treating it as a funding priority. If we continue to under fund our cityís schools, we will continue to be forced to live with the results of educational inequality ñ a city starkly divided between the haves and the have-nots.
First and foremost, Bostonís minority communities have long lived with a glass ceiling keeping them from advancement to the higher levels of responsibility in both the public and private sectors. According to Turner, Boston suffers from one of the highest rates of workplace discrimination in the nation. As a result, until very recently, Bostonís minority communities have suffered from what Hubie Jones, Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Human Affairs at the University of Massachusetts, calls a ìbrain drain."
Rather than deal with what Jones describes as the ìperception that the opportunity structure was not available to them," many of Bostonís talented, well-educated minorities were leaving for greener pastures. Cities like Atlanta, Detroit and Cleveland ñ places that had once suffered from terrible racial relations but have since made impressive gains in the area of minority opportunities ñ have been drawing away Bostonís best and brightest leaving very few role models for the next generation of minority youths.
Fortunately, the Partnership, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the presence of people of color in Bostonís business and non-profit institutions, was formed to address this problem. Through its Boston Associates Program, its Boston Fellows Program and its Senior Executives Program, the Partnership has been working for nearly 16 years to help professionals at all levels of their careers maximize their potential and continue to progress in their chosen field. In addition, the Partnership has been working closely with other organizations such as Earl Phalenís Bell Foundation to help provide those badly needed role models to the cityís youths, exposing young people of color to the notion that there can be a wide range of opportunities available to them.
In the years since its founding in the late ’Äò80s, the Partnership has helped to significantly reduce the cityís ìbrain drain." In fact, the Partnership can boast an 84-90 percent success rate across its three core programs. But unfortunately, this just addresses one part of the larger problem. Lack of access to affordable housing is, in many ways, an even more significant problem for Bostonís communities of color.
Bostonís economic boom of the 1990s did not fall equally across all ethnic groups. Boston’Äôs minority communities did not reap the same degree of financial benefits as the cityís white community but the boomís resulting spike in housing prices hit them just as hard if not harder. Mayor Tom Menino and many community groups have advocated anti-market strategies, such as rent control, to deal with the issue.
îThe market is keeping people in poverty," says Juan Leyton, executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana. ìIf you want to rent a 2-bedroom apartment for $1,700, you have to make $60,000 and most Latinos donít make that much money."
While rent control seems like a good idea to many people, others feel that rent control would cause more problems than it would solve. For starters, opponents point out that limiting the amount that landlords can charge for an apartment acts as a disincentive toward the building of more housing. And since more housing is what the city so desperately needs, discouraging people from building new units is definitely not the way to go.
Leyton defends his support of rent control by pointing to the fact that local and state budget cuts have dried up much of the money for the construction of affordable housing.
îAt this point there is no more money to build more affordable housing. And when you canít build more housing, you have to regulate the market. Rent control is an alternative to government spending," he says.
Mayor Menino has already begun to step away from his call for a return of rent control, however. With little support for anti-market initiatives in the City Council, the Mayor is continuing to look in other directions. Late last year, Mayor Menino launched a program called Three Decker Plus aimed at making the purchase of triple-deckers more affordable for the moderate-income families that normally make these buildings their homes. Under Three Decker Plus, homebuyers would be eligible for a $20,000 subsidy toward the purchase price, $1,000 in closing cost assistance and as much as two percent in down-payment assistance. In return, the new owner/occupant would be required to make one of the remaining two units available at affordable rates for the next 20 years. This $22 million dollar program, jointly funded by Fleet Bank and the city of Boston, will not be available in all Boston neighborhoods, however. While Dorchester will be included, in the plan, other heavily minority neighborhoods, such as Jamaica Plain will not.
Another initiative intended to help the cityís low-income residents (many of whom, of course, are people of color) is a proposal being floated by Councilor Turner. This proposal would bar the city from doing business with companies that engage in or have any financial connection to predatory lending. Statistics reported by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) showed that, in 2001, the percentage of subprime mortgages (those mortgages offered at substantially higher than normal rates or with unusually harsh fees and penalties) received by low-income black borrowers was over three times as great as the percentage of subprime mortgages received by low-income white borrowers. Latino borrowers faired little better and, as pointed out by City Councilor Felix Arroyo, predatory lending is still a significant problem for immigrants, as well.
Yet another problem faced by Bostonís minorities is a lack of investment in their communities. Traditionally, most communities of color have seen little investment due to the federal governmentís institutionalization of the practice of ìredlining." This ìredlining," (the practice of systematically denying loans to certain neighborhoods based largely on their racial composition) which resulted in low instances of minority home ownership, was outlawed in 1968 by the Fair Housing Act but had become such an institution within the financial community that it continued to be a problem well past the close of the ’Äò60s. There are some banks, however, that are stepping in to fill the void left by years of both legal and illegal housing discrimination.
Fleet Boston is one such bank. With the creation of their Community Banking system, Fleet has committed itself to the support of low and moderate-income communities (LMI communities) such as those found in Roxbury and large parts of Dorchester, Jamaica Plain and Mattapan.
From her offices in Dudley Square, where Fleet maintains a branch in a building that has housed a financial institution for over 250 years, District Manager Annette Richardson oversees 13 community banks.
îWeíre here for a reason," says Richardson. ìWeíre here to show that working with LMI communities is profitable. By investing here, we inject capital into the community. And when a corporation like Fleet makes a decision to invest in a community, everyone else follows suit."
But Fleetís Community Banking model calls for more than just providing financial investment to LMI communities. The Community Banks also offers educational resources to the community. Richardson regularly brings in specialists to help local residents, long cut out of most financial markets, establish positive credit and begin to navigate the waters of applying for a small business loan or a first time mortgage.
îPeople come in to apply for a credit card or a home loan," Richardson says, ìand if they donít meet with approval, rather than just rejecting them outright, someone sits down with them and explains why they were rejected. We tell them, ìGo out and get a department store credit card and make your payments and then come back in here in a few months and we can look at your application again.î We see people who first came in to open up a passbook savings account and four years later, theyíre buying their second home."
Fleet is by no means the only bank investing in Bostonís minority communities. One United Bank is an institution that has been there all along. Beginning over 40 years ago with the founding of United Bank and Trust, One United was just newly christened last January after the completion of a series of mergers stretching over the last four years. With total assets of $500 million and branches in three states, One United is now the largest black owned bank in the nation, well positioned to continue its mission to ìhelp lower income communities Ö overcome the challenges created by poverty, economic disenfranchisement, and community stagnation." This is by no means an easy mission, especially when the neighborhoods that One United services are taken into consideration.
Take the Dudley Triangle, for example. Over 30 percent of the community in this 1 1/2 square mile neighborhood lives below the poverty line while 21 percent of the neighborhoodís land lies vacant, a result of illegal insurance fires and years of neglect. But according to DSNIís John Barros, investment by minority-owned institutions like One United can bring a sense of pride to a neighborhood like the Dudley Triangle.
î[Investment] helps to increase self-pride and self-preservation," says Barros. ìIt makes such a difference to a community like ours to know that there are all types of people giving to the neighborhood; but if those people have greater ties to the community, it makes it all the sweeter."
If Bostonís economic opportunities are to continue to grow for its minority residents this degree of investment is going to have to continue to grow as well. In addition, organizations such as DSNI, City Life/Vida Urbana and the Partnership are going to have to keep up their tireless efforts. If we are to make any headway in the struggle against this cityís long established patterns of economic segregation, it is important that we make the commitment to support these organizations in their efforts.
As mentioned earlier, the Boston area has seen some recent victories in the arena of minority political involvement. Felix Arroyo was sworn in as the City Councilís first Latino member; Jeffrey Sanchez was elected to the State House from the predominately white 15th Suffolk District; and Jarrett Barrios was elected to the State Senate from the 28th Middlesex District. Unfortunately, along with these victories have come a number of setbacks as well. One of the most dramatic setbacks was the new redistricting plan adopted by the state legislature.
After having learned from the results of the 2000 Census that Boston is now a majority-minority city, the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts set about redrawing its legislative districts. Rather than increasing political opportunities for minority voters, the redistricting plan actually took away a majority-minority district from the Boston area. Of Bostonís 17 seats in the State House, only five are now majority-minority seats, not quite what one would expect from a city that is now predominantly minority.
So how did this redistricting work? It was accomplished by shuffling precincts around among the cityís various districts in a plan that resulted in the concentration of the cityís minority voters in as few districts as possible.
In the 11th Suffolk, redistricting dropped the percentage of minority voters from 62.3 percent to 49.3 percent. In the 15th Suffolk, the percentage of minority voters fell to 40.9 from a pre-redistricting level of 54.3. In exchange the 13th Suffolk became a new majority-minority district as it grew from 48.8 percent minority to 51.9 percent minority, but as this change was so small and the result made the district majority-minority by only the slimmest of margins, this hardly offsets the much greater changes made to the other two districts.
To add insult to injury, the redistricting plan took a seat away from Mattapan residents by moving three predominately black Mattapan precincts out of the 12th Suffolk and replacing them with three predominately white Milton precincts. After redistricting, the 12th Suffolk (represented, not surprisingly by none other than Speaker Tom Finneran) was no longer made up of a majority of Mattapan residents.
As a result, the 6th Suffolk after receiving the 12th’Äôs old precincts grew from 82.8 percent minority to 98.0 percent minority ñ a politically insignificant change as the district was already a minority-voting bloc. The net result being that the 12th became less likely to vote for a minority candidate, and the 6th became no more likely to do so. This is a rather unambiguous sign that the stateís lawmakers were trying to concentrate minorities in as few districts as possible.
As Malia Lazu, executive director of Boston Vote, explains, ìPeople continue to vote based on race and if you donít draw districts to highlight communities of color, youíre not going to see change."
Lazu and Boston vote are leading the way in fighting the new redistricting with the formation of the Boston Voting Rights Redistricting Coalition. This group has filed suit against the state in Federal Court alleging that the Houseís redistricting plan violates the Voting Rights Act and the US Constitutionís guarantee of ìequal protection." If successful, the coalitionís lawsuit would force the districts lines to be redrawn in a more equitable manner.
Redistricting problems are not solely confined to the state level, however. Bostonís City Council Districts are often gerrymandered in ways to reduce minority political power. The plight of Chinatown is a perfect example. Long a powerless minority community, Chinatown has been kept that way by being districted together with politically powerful and largely Irish-Catholic South Boston.
According to Lydia Lowe, director of the Chinese Progressive Association, ìThere is virtually no possibility for an Asian to be elected to the city council from Chinatown."
While this may be so, the community organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts being lead by Lowe and the Chinese Progressive Association are beginning to have an effect. Just last December the city consented to the formation of the Chinese Residential Association, a neighborhood council made up of local residents. Previously, Chinatown had been represented by a predominately non-resident committee made up largely of local business owners. Now after years of political voicelessness, the residents of Chinatown finally have a say in the development of their community and at what appears to be an extremely important time, too.
îOne of the biggest issues facing the Chinese community is the threat to Chinatown resulting from the redevelopment of Downtown," says Lowe. ìChinatown began in the late 1800s as a result of anti-Chinese sentiments and now, 130 years later, residents are concerned with the preservation of the community."
So now that Chinatown finally has gained itself a small degree of political power, maybe someday it can look forward to a city redistricting that will tie it to the South End, a community with a significant Latino population. If so, Chinatownís residents could more effectively explore coalitions with Latinos and other minority communities in the district, and the political opportunities of the Chinese community could continue to grow.
As almost everyone interviewed for this series pointed out, coalitions are the key.
îWeíve been sold this idea of individuality," Lazu explains, ìand I donít know why we bought it. Because nothing was ever accomplished as an individual."
If we do really want to see a change in the degree of segregation in our city ñ a change in the educational, economic and political inequalities that effect all our communities, whether we realize it or not ñ then this idea of coalitions is the most important point to remember.
After all, now that Boston is a majority-minority city, everyone is a minority; the challenge is for all of us minorities to learn how to work together.
The Boston City Council's redistricting committee could not settle on a compromise plan to create a fourth district containing a majority of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians at a contentious hearing yesterday that dissolved into bickering.
The compromise plan in question, crafted earlier in the week by committee chairwoman Maureen Feeney, would place parts of Mattapan into District 5, increasing its percentage of minorities from 42 to 51.1 percent.
But after an argument over parliamentary procedure by the council's only two black members, the committee agreed to delay a vote on whether to recommend the plan to the full council, opening the door to modifications and additional proposals.
The compromise plan being considered is a less dramatic redrawing than proposals by the council's two black members, Chuck Turner of Roxbury and Charles Yancey of Mattapan, who cited new census figures showing that Boston is now 49 percent white, 24 percent black, 14 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent Asian. Three of the council's nine districts currently contain a majority of minorities.
The Turner proposal was opposed by other members, largely because it would have forced two incumbents to run against each other.
At yesterday's hearing, Yancey and Feeney quarrelled throughout as Yancey repeatedly protested a decision to proceed with a vote and Feeney banged her gavel to silence him.
At one point, while Feeney was explaining the merits of taking a vote, Yancey interrupted and said, ''With all due respect ...''
''There has been no respect, Councilor,'' Feeney shot back. ''That's the problem!''
Yancey said he'd not been given enough time to review the plan, which Feeney submitted to council members Tuesday evening. Yancey also said he was confused by an addition to Feeney's plan that slightly shifted the boundaries of District 8, which is represented by Councilor Michael Ross and includes Beacon Hill and Back Bay.
Yancey repeatedly asked, ''Where is the explanation of these changes?''
Feeney, whose aides had supplied some last-minute paperwork to Yancey earlier during the hearing, said heatedly in reply, ''In your hand!''
Turner also objected to taking a vote on Feeney's plan. The other four councilors at the meeting, however, voiced support for Feeney's plan.
As ''a courtesy to Councilor Turner,'' Feeney said that she would submit the new plan to the council at next week's meeting before calling a vote for committee approval.
After the hearing, Feeney said she was ''very disappointed'' at the nasty turn the hearing had taken.
The Supreme Judicial Court yesterday rejected a challenge from the City of Cambridge to the state's new House redistricting plan, clearing the way for the redrawn boundaries to be used in this fall's elections.
The plan divides the city's four districts into six, with only one exclusively in Cambridge.
City officials argued the map will diminish the effectiveness of its representatives and dilute the voting power of its minority residents. They offered three alternatives, which they said would cause less disruption by dividing the city into fewer districts.
But the court found that the Legislature's map meets the requirements of state law to keep cities and towns intact as much as possible, while ensuring that the 160 House districts have roughly the same number of residents. It also noted that the plan preserves a district in Cambridge in which a majority of residents are minorities.
''The issue we must resolve is not whether a better plan exists,'' wrote Justice Judith A. Cowin.
''As long as the Legislature took `reasonable efforts to conform to the requirements of the Constitution,' we will uphold the Legislature's redistricting plan.''
Voting districts are redrawn every 10 years to account for population changes reflected in the latest US census.
The SJC decision was disheartening for many Cambridge residents, who now find themselves outnumbered in several of the districts by voters in other communities, including seats anchored in the Back Bay and Belmont.
''People have different priorities,'' said House member Alice K. Wolf, a Democrat who represents the only all-Cambridge seat.
''And now the majority of support in most Cambridge districts will come from other communities. But I believe the people went from being furious to being disappointed.''
Last year's redistricting plan, an amended version of a proposal made by House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, had come under fire from minority-rights groups in Cambridge, Chelsea, and Lawrence. Last month, six Latino residents of Chelsea and two advocacy groups also filed suit in US District Court, charging that the plan discriminates against Latino citizens.
And the town of Chelmsford has sued the state to block the elimination of its district.
The new map joins all of Chelmsford and Carlisle with existing districts in Lowell.
Chelmsford's lawsuit is still pending, but the high court's ruling indicates that the burden of proof for plaintiffs is difficult to reach.
Taking aim at Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), acting Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift (R)last week vetoed a House redistricting plan favored by Democrats and asked the state's Democratic-controlled Legislature to replace it with a GOP-drawn plan.
The Republican plan, which was rejected by the Legislature by wide margins last year, redraws Delahunt's 10th district, adding Fall River and New Bedford while pushing his Quincy base into the neighboring 9th district, held by freshman Rep. Stephen Lynch(D).
The GOP plan would also shift the 9th southward of Boston and increases the odds for a minority candidate in the 8th district, now held by Rep. Michael Capuano (D), who is white.
Democrats in Boston downplayed the significance of Swift's veto, saying the solidly Democratic Legislature would override it. BayState Democrats hold a 32-to-6 edge in the state Senate and a 136-to-22 majority in the state House.
In what could be a preview of election-year jockeying, acting Gov. Jane M. Swift yesterday vetoed a congressional redistricting plan favored by Democratic lawmakers and asked the Legislature to replace it with a Republican plan.
Swift said the Republican plan protects incumbent congressmen, preserves ``core districts'' including the Merrimack Valley, creates a majority-minority district centered in Boston, and guarantees representation to the growing South Coast area.
But Democratic lawmakers predicted an easy override of her veto and accused Swift of political ``posturing.''
``I think this is suspect - she's playing to the voter-rich area in the southeastern part of the commonwealth,'' said Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati (D-Ludlow), chairman of the House Redistricting Committee.
Said Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg (D-Amherst), chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee: ``The Republican plan was overwhelmingly rejected by both chambers. . . . We think the plan we passed is constitutionally defensible.''
The Republican plan redraws the 10th District more severely than the Democratic plan, adding Fall River and New Bedford while pushing Quincy into the 9th District. Democrat William Delahunt, who represents the 10th, is a Quincy resident.
``We create a fair opportunity for somebody from southeast Massachusetts to represent the 10th,'' said Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading), assistant minority leader.
The Republican plan shifts the 9th District southward out of most of Boston, and increases the odds for a non-white congressman in the 8th District.
Editor's note: With today's edition, The Herald News begins coverage of the 2002 Massachusetts legislative session with the weekly feature "Beacon Hill Roll Call." This feature is a clear and concise compilation of the voting records of area state representatives and senators at the Statehouse.
BHRC provides an unbiased summary of each bill or amendment and arguments from floor debate on each side of the issue. Combined with each legislator's vote or lack of vote on the matter, BHRC gives readers an opportunity to monitor their elected officials' actions on Beacon Hill. Since many bills are reported on in their early stages, readers have the opportunity to contact their legislators and express an opinion prior to the measure being brought up for final action.
The feature "Also up on Beacon Hill" informs readers of other important matters which have been decided on a voice vote rather than a roll call vote.
BHRC is provided by Bob Katzen, who has covered the Legislature for more than 25 years.
Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives' votes on two roll calls and local senators' votes on one roll call from the week of Dec. 31-Jan. 4.
Reps. George Rogers, David Sullivan and Patricia Haddad voted "yes" on an earlier roll call giving initial approval to the Democratic Congressional Redistricting Plan. They changed their votes to "no" on the roll call below giving near-final approval to the same plan.
DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING (H 4778) -- The House, 118-30, gave near-final approval to and sent to the Senate a Democratic version of a bill redistricting the state's 10 congressional districts for the 2002 elections. Supporters said the plan is a fair and equitable one which adds some Boston minority districts to Congressman Mike Capuano's district to form the state's first district in which minority voters outnumber white ones. They argued the plan also helps the 10 incumbent congressmen keep their seats and retain their clout and seniority in Washington. Some opponents said the plan is an incumbency protection act which continues to gerrymander districts to ensure that all incumbents are re-elected. Several said the plan is unfair because it does not create a true southeastern Massachusetts district which would give a resident of that area a chance to be elected to Congress. Others said the plan's Merrimack Valley district is flawed and needs improvement to benefit the voters of that area. (See No. 1.)
REPUBLICAN ALTERNATIVE REDISTRICTING PLAN (H 4778) -- The House, 122-26, rejected a Republican-sponsored alternative to the Democratic Congressional redistricting plan. Supporters of the Republican plan said it is superior, establishes more compact and contiguous districts and creates true southeastern and Merrimack Valley districts. They noted the Democratic plan splits up four communities while the Republican one splits only one. Opponents of the Republican plan said the Democratic one is a fairer one which was developed following lengthy discussions, hearings and meetings. They noted that compact and contiguous districts are not the only criteria to use and argued the Democratic plan takes into consideration many concerns expressed by people all over the state. (See No. 2.)
Although the region managed to gain some voting power, local legislators said they were disappointed with this week's decision to axe a plan that would have given southeastern Massachusetts its own congressional district.
"We're always represented by congresspeople who don't know us," said state Rep. Robert Correia, D-Fall River, one of the leaders in the fight for a Bristol County congressional district.
The last time someone from this area voted in Congress was 1984, he said.
"How many years does this go on?" he asked.
Correia and other legislators said that Congressmen James McGovern and Barney Frank do an excellent job of representing the area, but they also said the region deserves a chance to send one of its own to Washington.
Under the approved redistricting plan, McGovern's third congressional district stretches roughly from Worcester to the south end of Fall River. Frank's fourth district stretches from his hometown of Newton to Taunton, to the north end of Fall River and east into Plymouth County.
Congressional redistricting occurs every 10 years after the census is conducted. State legislators draw up the lines; based them on a wide variety of things including the protection of popular incumbents, the Supreme Court has ruled.
Plans to create a new comprehensive Bristol County District were scrapped when an outcry erupted over the fact that Congressman Marty Meehan, D-Mass, would have had to run against another incumbent.
State Rep. David Sullivan, D-Fall River, said that though he voted for the compact southeastern Massachusetts district, the area is not ignored by its current representatives in Washington.
"I think we have two great Congressmen," he said. "It's good to have them in our corner."
Sullivan said that while Frank and McGovern aren't from this area, they have gotten to know it pretty well.
"It think they work hard not to be criticized for that," he said.
State Rep. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, agreed with Sullivan that the current congressmen do a good job, but he noted that Bristol County will have to wait a long time before it has another chance at its own district.
"I'm disappointed," he said. We have an opportunity only once every 10 years to redistrict. I thought this was a good opportunity for us to unify Bristol County."
Despite the legislators sentiments, some locals have argued against a unified Bristol County district. Fall River Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr., for instance, has said two effective congressmen are better than one.
"Districts should be shaped around communities' commonality of interests," he said.
Frank said he is running for re-election this year and if he wins, he will have represented all of southeastern Massachusetts at one time or another during his 20-year career.
Frank said the plan is "not what you would do if you started from scratch," but he said the new plan is better than the old districts.
He said redistricting is traditionally conducted along political lines in Massachusetts and in most states. Southeastern Massachusetts lost its comprehensive congressional district in 1966 after Margaret M. Heckler, of Wellsley, defeated incumbent Congressman Joe Martin Jr. of North Attleboro.
After that victory the lines were drawn based on Heckler's hometown of Wellsley, Frank said.
Republicans in the Massachusetts Legislature tried -- and failed -- on Wednesday to amend a compromise redistricting agreement reached by the House and Senate and passed in preliminary form in December.
The compromise map varies little from the one drawn a decade ago that the state's all-white, all-male, all-Democratic delegation now represents in Congress.
"Their primary goal was incumbent protection," Rep. Brad Jones, R-Reading, said of the compromise plan.
House Minority Leader Francis Marini said Republicans had offered a more compact southeastern Massachusetts district.
The GOP plan would also have split only one community -- Boston -- into several districts, while the compromise plan also splits Wayland, Hanson and Fall River.
The Democratic majority in the House defeated the Republican proposal and sent the compromise plan to the Committee on Third Reading for a final review. The House is expected to send the plan to the Senate on Thursday.
The compromise plan restores Marty Meehan's 5th District, which was eliminated in an early draft, and redraws U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano's 8th Congressional District so minority voters are in the majority.
The compromise plan also moves Taunton and several towns to the 4th District, held by Barney Frank, creating a more compact "South Coast" District that represents fast-growing southeastern Massachusetts.
On New Year's Day, Capuano drove around neighborhoods of his district, even though he wasn't completely sure what the new district boundaries would be.
The former Somerville mayor expects to lose Belmont, Watertown and a little bit of Boston's Beacon Hill and pick up the city's North End, Jamaica Plain, Chinatown and Mattapan neighborhoods.
"It's really not new territory per se," Capuano said, noting that the homes in the new 8th Congressional District look the same as those in the old. "It's a little more of the same."
The new battle lines will not be official until January. But there is very little reason to believe that the congressional redistricting map approved by the state Senate this week will not get backing from the House of Representatives.
Before it could take up redistricting, the House ran out of time Wednesday night during a marathon session of budget overrides. And while it is true that the clock passed midnight and lawmakers could no longer act, there was a tremendous amount of time wasted during the session.
Senators were frustrated that they couldn't even begin to consider overrides until late in the afternoon because the House was plodding through a host of collective bargaining agreements. The union votes could have been bundled up and passed on a voice vote, but roll call votes allow individual legislators to show in a concrete way that they support unions. It's an important distinction to have when it comes time to raise money.
The House spent several hours on the union contracts, delaying the override votes. Once the House voted to override, the Senate took up the matter and did the same.
It was the Senate, however, that voted first on the redistricting plan. The House took the redistricting hand-off from the Senate in plenty of time to act. It simply chose not to. Now the matter rests until January, the next time the House meets in formal session. If it all seems a strange way to do business, well, many rank-and-file lawmakers would agree.
Even the override process was ponderous, with House Minority Whip George N. Peterson Jr. of Grafton and House Minority Leader Francis L. Marini of Hanson dutifully registering the loyal opposition before going down to defeat. On television they looked as if they were holding the floor with their oratory. In reality, few lawmakers were listening. Virtually every vote reflected the party line, with some deviation. Since Republicans have about one-eighth of the membership in the House, they alone cannot muster the one-third-plus-one-vote requirement necessary to sustain a veto.
But they didn't oppose the union contracts. Those were passed unanimously in both chambers.
All told, the House and Senate combined for $156 million in overrides, with the Senate matching the House vote for vote. Only a handful of Gov. Jane M. Swift's vetoes were overridden, and more than $40 million is available to fund social service programs, which the Legislature whacked before sending the governor its $22 billion budget on Thanksgiving eve.
It's time for the Massachusetts Legislature to follow the example of states like New Jersey and Washington, and do something altruistic and good for the general public -- in other words, something they're usually loath to do.
Massachusetts lawmakers should establish a nonpartisan commission to handle congressional redistricting in the future. The current method of redrawing the lines of congressional districts -- to reflect population changes over the past decade -- is nothing short of a travesty.
In states where one party dominates the political scene, redistricting usually boils down to two goals: protecting incumbent congressmen of their party, and creating mischief to keep members of the other party from getting elected or re-elected.
Although Massachusetts has a Republican governor in Jane Swift, Democrats control the Legislature by a veto-proof margin, so if they stick together, they can monopolize this process. All 10 of the Bay State's congressmen are Democrats, so it's no surprise that the new map perpetuates a series of grotesquely misshapen districts aimed at guaranteeing safe re-election bids for the incumbents through the next decade.
This is particularly frustrating, since House Speaker Thomas Finneran, D-Mattapan, and state Rep. Robert Correia, D-Fall River, actually came up with something more visionary: uniform districts that tie together communities with shared interests. Along those lines, Finneran and Correia proposed creating a district centered around Bristol County.
Instead, lawmakers gave us the status quo, chopping up Fall River between two districts, connecting us to Worcester and its suburbs in the 3rd District, and -- even more ludicrously -- to Boston's rich suburbs of Newton and Brookline in the 4th District. What does the average Fall River resident have in common with the Newton folks living in million-dollar homes? Not much.
Incumbent-protection can't be the only factor involved. Supporters of the plan insist that our congressmen have such valuable influence in the halls of Congress that we'd be insane to endanger their re-election, but that's a lame argument. Eventually they will all retire, be defeated, or otherwise move on, and the state will elect new congressmen who can build up influence.
Besides, Congress today doles out so much pork to keep the voters happy and ensure their re-election bids that some days it seems like trained chimps could do the job.
Massachusetts isn't alone in this; any state dominated by one party is reveling in redistricting mischief. Republicans control the Legislature in Utah, and want to eliminate the re-election of the state's lone Democratic congressman, Jim Matheson, by carving his home city, Salt Lake, into three districts.
Republicans also control the process in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, and hope to hurt Democratic congressmen there; Democrats are in control in California, Georgia and Maryland, and have similar plans for incumbent Republicans.
The entire process is a joke. When Democrats in Utah complained about the fact that Salt Lake City was being carved up among the state's three congressional districts, the Republicans countered that voters benefit by having districts with a blend of rural and urban interests.
That's as ridiculous an argument as the Massachusetts Legislature insisting that Fall River and New Bedford share common ground with Newton and Brookline.
Good government groups in this state should consider a ballot referendum to mandate all future redistricting be done by a nonpartisan commission. Let's take the power -- and potential for mischief -- away from the very lawmakers who have abused their responsibilities. The die is cast for the next decade, but it doesn't have to stay that way forever.
After a long and twisting saga that abruptly corked his higher political ambitions, Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) appears to have succeeded in saving his House district.
Massachusetts legislators were set to vote yesterday on a compromise redistricting plan that would largely leave intact Meehan's northeastern 5th district. But contentious debate last night on the state budget threatened to stall action on the compromise plan, which was voted out of conference committee earlier this week. Because the state legislature was slated to recess yesterday, lawmakers may not vote on the plan until after Jan. 2, according to an aide to state House Speaker Thomas Finneran (D).
"The bottom line is if we don't do it tonight, it's not going to happen until January," spokesman Charlie Rasmussen said last night, adding that a vote last night looked "highly questionable."
But state and Congressional Democrats were confident that the compromise plan would ultimately be approved after quite a struggle.
Last July Finneran unveiled a controversial plan that would have eliminated Meehan's seat, but the new proposal would essentially protect the 10 Democratic Members of the Massachusetts delegation and create the state's first majority-minority seat in the 8th district, home to Rep. Michael Capuano (D).
"The communities of my district have scored an important victory," Meehan said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. "The final redistricting plan recognizes the value of having similar economic interests and a common history together. This victory is due to a lot of hard work by all of those community groups."
But the restoration of the 5th district, and Meehan's political survival, did not come without sacrifice for the five-term Democrat. Meehan had been planning to run for governor before Finneran announced his intention to ax his House seat last July. Finneran's surprise proposal would have placed Meehan's Lowell home in the seat of 6th district Rep. John Tierney (D).
Stunned, Meehan quickly announced he would instead run for re-election and fight to save his district. He said in the interview that he was not bitter about having to scuttle his political ambitions, at least temporarily, to rescue the 5th.
"I was leading in the polls when I decided to get out," Meehan explained. "I grew up in the Merrimack Valley and have lived in the valley my whole life. It's important for me to see the district survive.
"I have a lot of work left to do in the Congress, and I feel comfortable with my decision," he said, but added that "I certainly would not have made [the decision] as quickly as I did."
Although the governor's race is next year, there could be another opportunity for statewide office in the Bay State in 2004, when Sen. John Kerry (D) is expected to run for president. But Meehan denied he was contemplating any future moves at the moment.
"I wouldn't rule anything out. I wouldn't rule anything in," he said.
Even though Meehan himself spent much of the August recess lobbying state lawmakers to restore the 5th, he singled out the new dean of the Congressional delegation, Rep. Ed Markey (D), as being particularly instrumental in pressing his case behind the scenes with Finneran and other influential lawmakers.
"Ed was a real key," Meehan said, praising Markey's "leadership." "He handled the entire issue with a lot of savvy and dignity. He candidly gave me a lot of advice about how to handle it."
Meehan's biggest problem with restoring his seat lay with Finneran. Although the powerful state House Speaker claimed that his proposal was based on the idea that Meehan would run for governor, others imputed more political motives to the lawmaker, such as his intense dislike for Meehan's support of campaign finance reform and the state's Clean Elections plan, which would limit campaign spending.
Initially, it looked as if the House delegation wasn't willing to back the maverick lawmaker in his battle with Finneran. But at Markey's urging, Meehan's colleagues ultimately penned a letter to state lawmakers suggesting that the state was better served by protecting its incumbents. Markey also placed a call to another key figure in the process, gubernatorial contender and state Senate President Thomas Birmingham (D), according to the Boston Globe.
After considerable protest from the media and community groups in the 5th, Birmingham became the first influential official to call Finneran's plan a "mistake." His comments were followed by an announcement that acting Gov. Jane Swift (R) would veto the Finneran plan if it was approved by the Legislature. Swift is seeking re-election in 2002, and Meehan's district includes some of the more conservative areas of the state.
But the real turning point came when word leaked at the end of November that Finneran had pulled back from his original plan and would now support a revised proposal that would leave the Merrimack Valley intact while still creating a majority-minority seat.
The compromise plan would not change the partisan makeup of the 5th in a significant way, but would add Haverhill to the seat, while the Senate version would have added Framingham, according to a Meehan adviser.
The biggest change under the plan would be to Capuano's 8th district, which would find its minority population expand from 46 percent to 51 percent. Capuano said he was pleased with the new seat in an interview yesterday, explaining that the alterations aren't terribly significant, since 87 percent of his current seat remains intact. Under the new plan he would pick up portions of Boston, Chinatown and Roxbury, some of which he already represents.
"I think it's exactly the right way to go," he said, adding that the compromise plan was "good on lots of levels."
"They accomplished all the goals they set out to accomplish," Capuano explained.
One in 10 voters would be switched into a new congressional district under the compromise resdistricting plan due to hit the House and Senate floors today for debate and approval.
The House and Senate appear to agree on the new map, which retains several barely contiguous and meandering districts.
The plan forms a Boston-based district with minorities having the population majority, and a supposedly more centered Southeastern Massachusetts district.
The only other major objective achieved under the new plan is the retention of the status quo, and by doing so, protecting incumbents.
"There's so little change overall," said Sen. Stanley Rosenberg , D-Amherst, who drafted the bill with Rep. Thomas Petrolati, D-Ludlow. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
All five Republican members of the Joint Special Committee on Redistricting voted against the proposal.
"It's basically the status quo," said House Minority Leader Francis Marini , R-Hanson. "The first and most important criterion is protecting incumbents. We ought to be looking at districts that are compact and make some sense."
Republicans will oppose the plan today, but don't hold much sway these days.
The plan splits only four of the commonwealth's 351 cities and towns -- Boston, Fall River, Wayland and Hanson -- into two congressional districts, down from 12 split communities under the existing districts.
Under the plan, 11 percent of voters will find themselves in new districts next November.
The Legislature is charged with redrawing districts every 10 years based on new decennial census figures.
Despite claims by legislators to the contrary, some districts remain barely contiguous and oddly shaped.
For instance, Rep. James McGovern's 3rd District continues to run in a long strip from Princeton and Rutland south to Fall River and Somerset. Similarly, Rep. Barney Frank's 4th district weaves its way north from Westport, New Bedford and Wareham all the way up to Newton and Brookline.
Here's a look at the proposed districts, all currently held by Democrats.
District 1 -- The state's largest district, now held by Rep. John Olver of Amherst, is growing still, with Ware, Pepperell, Sterling and part of Lunenberg added and only North Brookfield removed. The district covers most of Western Massachusetts.
District 2 -- It will run west to east along the Connecticut border from Northampton and Hadley through Central Massachusetts and into Bellingham. U.S. Rep. Richard Neal of Springfield holds this seat. The new plan adds North Brookfield, Grafton, Upton and Northbridge while subtracting Auburn and Ware.
District 3 -- Held by McGovern, of Worcester, the district is facing some substantial changes. It gains the Metrowest communities of Auburn, Marlborough, Southborough and Ashland, in addition to Rehoboth and Fall River to the south. It sheds Sterling, Lancaster, Berlin, Grafton, Upton, Northbridge, Dartmouth, Westport and part of Fall River, Foxborough and Mansfield.
The district can no longer be referred to as "The Ivy League District," stretching from Princeton in the north to Dartmouth in the south.
The redrawn district still slithers like a snake from Princeton to Fall River, though, while covering parts of Worcester, Norfolk and Bristol counties.
District 4 -- Another meanderer. The district held by Frank runs from his hometown of Newton and neighboring Brookline south through Dover, Foxborough and Norton, where it expands, encompassing Middleboro, Taunton and part of Fall River, as well as Westport, Dartmouth, New Bedford, Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, Marion and Wareham.
The district gains Taunton, Westport and Dartmouth, while losing half of Mansfield and Foxboro.
Rosenberg said the growing population in Southeastern Massachusetts "warranted creating a South Coast district." Sixty-one percent of residents in the reconfigured 4th district will live in Southeastern Massachusetts, Rosenberg said, adding that the 4th district probably underwent the most change.
Petrolati said a South Coast candidate would have a strong chance of success in a district that includes New Bedford, Taunton, and parts of Fall River.
Marini said the district's boundaries remain suspect. "They run it along like a shoelace," he said.
District 5--U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan's 5th district was obliterated under House Speaker Thomas Finneran's initial redistricting map, but is shored up under the compromise.
It retains its Lowell and Lawrence bases, adds Haverhill to the north and Lancaster and Berlin to the south.
The district loses Metrowest communities such as Marlboro, Southboro and Ashland, sheds parts of Lincoln and Wayland, and gives up Lunenberg and Pepperell to the west.
District 6 -- Rep. John Tierney of Salem won't have to square off against Meehan, as Finneran has initially envisioned. In fact, his district won't change much.
The North Shore district loses Haverhill to the 5th and gains Wakefield and seven precincts in Reading.
District 7 -- Belmont and Watertown are added to the district presently held by Rep. Edward Markey, now the new dean of the state's congressional delegation.
The district also now covers all of Lincoln and parts of Wayland. Tierney loses Wakefield and the seven Reading precincts that are being shifted north into Tierney's district.
District 8 -- By pushing Belmont and Watertown into Markey's 7th district and acquiring Boston wards with large minority populations, map drafters believe they've created the first district in Massachusetts with a majority-minority population.
That's not the same as a majority minority voting population.
The district is presently held by Rep. Michael Capuano of Somerville.
District 9 -- Another district undergoing substantial change, the 9th, held by newly elected Rep. Stephen Lynch of South Boston, gives up many of its Boston wards to Capuano's 8th district and expands to the south.
Added communities include Holbrook, Avon, Whitman, Bridgewater, West Bridgewater and East Bridgewater, as well as half of Brockton and Easton and a pair of precincts in Hanson.
In addition to the loss of many Boston wards, the district loses all of Taunton, which shifts into Frank's 4th district.
District 10 -- The coastal district held by Rep. William Delahunt still runs from Quincy south to Provincetown, but is gaining inland heft with the additions of Pembroke, Plympton, Carver and parts of Rockland and Hanson.
The 10th cedes half of Brockton, as well as Avon and Holbrook to Lynch's 9th district.
Minority Leader Marini said fast-growing Southeastern Massachusetts is not getting the concise district the Democrats are trumpeting.
"Within a cab ride of this building, you can find a half dozen of them," he said, referring to those with Southeastern Massachusetts towns -- Frank, Capuano, Lynch, Delahunt, Markey and Tierney, who hail from Newton, Somerville, South Boston, Quincy, Malden and Salem respectively.
The Legislature's redistricting committee has decided to stick with the status quo on the state's 10 congressional districts, dumping plans for a new district centered around Bristol County.
If the Legislature approves the new map during a special session on Wednesday, Fall River will continue for the next decade to be divided between two congressional districts: the 3rd District, represented by U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, and the 4th District, represented by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, both Democrats.
The news brought a mixed reaction. State Rep. Robert Correia, D-Fall River, who lobbied strongly on behalf of a Bristol County district, promised to vote against this map.
"I refused to sign the redistricting bill today, and I absolutely am voting against this plan," said Correia, a member of the redistricting committee. "It does not serve the best interest of southeastern Massachusetts. It's pretty much just the way it is now."
However, Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr. said he has no complaints about maintaining the status quo.
"I continue to believe that having both Jim McGovern and Barney Frank working on our behalf is a big plus," Lambert said. "They have the ability to use their combined clout to help the city."
Correia had been able to convince House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, D-Mattapan, that southeastern Massachusetts deserved its own district after being divided among several for nearly a century. Finneran's map would have created a new 5th Congressional District, centered around Bristol County and a handful of towns in Norfolk and Plymouth counties.
That district would have severed the region's ties to McGovern, who lives in Worcester, and Frank, who resides in Newton.
The state Senate refused to go along with the idea, largely because it would have meant dismantling the state's current 5th Congressional District, which covers north central Massachusetts and is represented by U.S. Rep. Martin Meehan.
Meehan had flirted with a gubernatorial bid in 2002, but then changed his mind and said he would run for re-election.
Under the new map, the 3rd District will continue to include the South End of Fall River, plus Attleboro, Somerset, Seekonk and Swansea. McGovern also picks up the town of Rehoboth, which now is in Frank's district. The 3rd District will continue to be linked to Worcester and its suburbs.
Frank will continue representing Fall River's North End, New Bedford, Berkley, Dighton and Freetown, but will now pick up Taunton, Dartmouth and Westport. His district will also include five other Bristol County communities: Acushnet, Fairhaven, Mansfield, Norton and Raynham.
Frank will also take in seven towns from Plymouth County -- including Lakeville -- meaning the 4th District will have the largest concentration of southeastern Massachusetts cities and towns in decades.
The 4th District will continue to be anchored to the Boston suburbs of Newton and Brookline.
Correia said he continues to believe this region could have done better.
"In essence, Fall River is almost split down the middle," he said, adding the Bristol County district simply became a tough sell.
"The only one holding out for it was the House. The governor was against it and the Senate was against it," Correia said. "We're not going to get another chance at this in 10 years."
Lambert, though, said the loss of Frank and McGovern's leadership could have hurt this region.
"They got an additional million for the city's combined sewer overflow project," Lambert said. "I think those kind of things happen because they work well together."
Michael W. Freeman may be reached at [email protected]
The state legislature is close to approving a congressional redistricting plan that would mean big changes and a likely rise in influence for Southeastern Massachusetts.
Under the compromise plan, which was approved by the legislature's redistricting committee yesterday, U.S. Representatives Barney Frank and James P. McGovern will trade off several towns, creating more geographically coherent districts.
Taunton, Dartmouth, and Westport will go to Frank's 4th District for a more contiguous, unified district reflecting the rapid growth in the south coast region.
"It's a pretty good job of consolidating Southeastern Massachusetts. From the standpoint of creating more of a district for Southeastern Massachusetts, it's a gain. Not a one hundred-percent win, but a gain," Frank said.
Fall River will still be split between McGovern and Frank, a situation that Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr. believes gives the city the best of both worlds.
"I'm not disappointed by that -- I'm fully supportive. I much prefer to have two congressmen, and particularly two experienced ones at that."
Frank agreed, saying Fall River was one of the big winners under the plan. "As far as constituent services goes, it's kind of hard to represent half a city. But when it comes to money for the city, it's a two-fer."
McGovern's 3rd District gives up some Southeastern Massachusetts areas to Frank, but makes gains closer to his Worcester base. He also takes the town of Rehoboth from Frank.
"Congressman McGovern is very pleased with the product the state legislature has put together," said McGovern spokesman Michael Mershon. "We've been representing Attleboro, Seekonk, and Swansea for the last five years, so the pickup of Rehoboth is something we're looking forward to."
State Sen. JoAnn Sprague, R-Walpole, represents Rehoboth in the state legislature. She's in support of the plan, both because the 4th District will fit Rehoboth well, and because the legislature's plan fixes some glaring geographic problems with several eastern Massachusetts districts.
"In a redistricting plan, usually they will try to fix some of the geographical imperfections. Some of these districts -- like Congressman Frank's district -- had a ridiculous shape to them. So they've done a good job in that respect, in fixing that."
The legislature will convene for a special formal session tomorrow to override Governor Swift's vetoes of budget items. They are also expected to give final approval to the redistricting map.
The compromise version, which reflects more of the Senate's plan than the House's, also keeps Marty Meehan's 5th District intact. House Speaker Thomas Finneran had originally floated a proposal that would have moved Meehan's district from north of Boston to Southeastern Massachusetts.
Swift said she would veto that plan, however, and State Senate President Thomas Birmingham concurred, forcing legislators to sit down again and draft what eventually became the compromise bill.
The plan also creates a district where a majority of constituents are black, Latino or from another minority group, by adding Boston's South End, North End and Jamaica Plain to Michael Capuano's 8th District.
District , under compromise plan
District , under compromise plan
Just months after Massachusetts House leaders vowed to radically reshape the state's 10 congressional districts, legislators instead simply tinkered around the edges, protecting incumbents.
House and Senate leaders unveiled a compromise plan yesterday that shifts some communities between districts, but is far from the sweeping new map that House Speaker Thomas Finneran had proposed and the Republicans had wanted.
The plan retains much of US Representative Martin T. Meehan's Merrimack Valley-based Fifth District and adds minority precincts in Boston to the district now served by US Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville - to make it the state's first-ever seat where a majority of the residents are nonwhite. It also adds more Southeastern Massachusetts communities to the Fourth District, now represented by Barney Frank of Newton.
The House and Senate are expected to approve the redistricting plan at a session tomorrow.
The changes will cause little discomfort for the 10 Democrats who now make up Massachusetts' US House delegation - a fact that Republican leaders complained about yesterday.
''These districts are gerrymandered for the Democratic incumbents,'' said state Senator Richard R. Tisei, Republican of Wakefield.
The GOP had proposed a plan that would have dramatically changed the congressional map, making the districts less rambling and more geographically centered. By denying Republicans a chance to win and keep a congressional seat, the legislative leaders are hurting Massachusetts' chance to gain clout on Capitol Hill and in the Bush administration, Tisei said.
Finneran created a political firestorm in July by proposing a plan that would have wiped out Meehan's district, merging his home city of Lowell and Lawrence into US Representative John Tierney's Sixth District. The speaker said he was convinced Meehan was running for governor and that he wanted to use the opportunity to create a new Southeastern-based district and a strong minority district.
Critics charged that he and other Beacon Hill Democrats wanted to punish Meehan for pushing campaign-finance reform, an issue that Finneran and his lieutenants despise. Shortly after the plan was released, Meehan announced he would seek reelection to Congress instead of running for the governor's office.
House Redistricting Committee Chairman Thomas Petrolati, Democrat of Ludlow, said the Senate's opposition to the reconfiguration of the Fifth District and the threat of Acting Governor Jane Swift's veto forced the House to compromise yesterday.
The committee quickly endorsed the plan with no debate, but the Republicans on the panel refused to vote for it.
Frank said the redistricting proposal responds to Southeastern Massachusetts' desire for its own district.
''It's a more logical district than before,'' Frank said yesterday, adding this was the least drastic of the three redistrictings he's been through.
Capuano, who lost Belmont and Watertown and picked up Boston's South End, North End, and Jamaica Plain, said he was resigned to the changes.
''I hate losing what I lost,'' he said, ''but at the same time I like picking up what I pick up.''
Legislative leaders have set Dec. 5 as the date for a vote on the state's new congressional district lines, and area residents are gearing up to fight for the creation of a Bristol County district.
There are four different redistricting plans on the table. The state House of Representatives has one, and the state Senate has its own separate version.
Acting Gov. Jane Swift also has a redistricting plan, and Republicans in the Legislature do as well. But since Democrats control the Legislature by a veto-proof margin, the final plan is expected to be a compromise between the House and Senate versions.
Area residents, led by Antonio C. Teixeira, held a meeting on Tuesday to plans ways to lobby lawmakers to approve the House plan, which creates a new congressional district centered around Bristol County.
The Senate plan would divide Bristol County between two congressional districts, as it is now.
U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Mass., represents Swansea, Somerset, Westport, Dartmouth and Fall River's South End in the 3rd Congressional District.
In the 4th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., represents Freetown, Berkley, New Bedford, Rehoboth and Fall River's North End.
Teixeira said interest in the district appears to be growing.
"We didn't have many people, only 10, but to compensate there was lots of enthusiasm on the part of those who attended," Teixeira said.
Representatives of the Niagara, Flint, and North End Neighborhood Associations, and the Azorean Cultural Society attended the meeting.
So did state Rep. Robert Correia, D-Fall River, and state Rep. Michael J. Rodrigues, D-Westport, who support the House plan to create a new 5th Congressional District around Bristol County.
Correia said on Friday that he still hopes to keep the Bristol County district in the final map.
"My own problem with every other plan has been that it doesn't give anyone here in southeastern Massachusetts a legitimate chance of representing the people here in Congress," Correia said. "For 84 years, we haven't had anyone in Congress who was born in this area, who grew up in this area and know the people and their dreams. We never had a chance to send that person to Congress to represent us."
McGovern lives in Worcester, while Frank resides in Newton. Correia said that while he doesn't believe Fall River shares anything with Greater Worcester or the Boston suburbs, he isn't criticizing the two congressmen themselves.
"We've had good congressmen -- Barney Frank and Jim McGovern," he said. But he added, "We've always had people living 50 miles away from us, representing us. They have to come down here and learn about us."
Texieira acknowledged that with Dec. 5 coming up quickly, that's "leaving us with very little time to conduct a letter-writing campaign." So he's urging people from this city to call Senate President Thomas Birmingham, D-Chelsea, at his Statehouse office, 617-722-1500, and Swift at 617-727-2600, "and tell them that we are in full support of the House proposal for a new 5th Congressional District."
In the meantime, Teixeira said his group stands ready to take further action if the vote is delayed.
"Mr. Correia and Mr. Rodrigues also stated that if there were any delays and the voting goes beyond December 5, they will let us know so we can prepare ourselves for another meeting," he said. "It was suggested that a representative from New Bedford and Taunton be called to help out on whatever we decide to do."
"While there are several different plans out there, the House plan is the only one that really satisfies what I've been trying to do for 20 years down here," Correia said.
He praised Teixeira for organizing the meeting, saying, "It was helpful, in terms of the fact that there's starting to be a recognition on the part of citizens of the area that this has an impact on us. I know what people say the negative is: we'd have a freshman in Congress.
"But Barney Frank was a freshman once. The meeting was a recognition from ordinary citizens that maybe we should be paying more attention to this. It only happens once every ten years."
The Legislatures in all 50 states redraw the lines of the nation's 435 congressional districts once a decade to reflect population changes.
Michael W. Freeman may be reached at [email protected]