Hill could change council districts

Dueling plans for Boston’s City Council Districts are battling over whether or not to move Mission Hill into a new district.

One, proposed by City Councilor Bill Linehan, who heads the City Council’s Committee on the Census and Redistricting, would put much of Mission Hill in Jamaica Plain’s District 6.

That plan would set up a potential electoral fight between City Councilor Mike Ross, who lives on the Hill and represents District 8, and City Councilor Matt O’Malley, a JP resident who represents District 6.

Those two put forward plans that would keep most of Mission Hill where it is.

Last week, O’Malley told the Gazette that he and Ross each independently arrived at the exact same plan to their districts largely intact. “They are exactly identical,” he said of the plans. Ross this week proposed some small changes to his plan, but none of them affect Mission Hill.

Under the O’Malley/Ross plan, most of Mission Hill would stay in Ross’s District 8. One voting precinct, Ward 10, Precinct 8, which includes the S. Huntington Avenue area, part of Back of the Hill ansd some of Hyde Square in JP—would move from District 8 into District 6.

Speaking to the Gazette, Ross said his motivation to keep Mission Hill in District 8 was not protecting his seat. He said he is opposed to Linehan’s plan both because it would divide Chinatown and because he doesn’t think Mission Hill wants out of District 8.

“I don’t think that is something that anyone wants,” he said. “I am committed to making sure that the map that is created is good for the city and good for the district.”

“My suggestion would keep the neighborhoods as whole as possible,” O’Malley said.

But Linehan noted that, by including all of Back of the Hill, his proposal would keep Mission Hill more intact. “I heard testimony loud and clear,” that the Hill should be kept whole, he said. Linehan hosted a series of public hearings on redistricting throughout the city this fall.

Linehan is hesitant about the Ross/O’Malley plan because it means major changes for his District 2, he said.

“I tried to be equal in accommodation and pain,” he said of his proposal.

Because of population shifts recorded in the 2010 census, District 8 needs to shrink. In general, the districts in the north of Boston are too populous and the southern districts are under-populated.

Ross, O’Malley and Linehan all stressed that the conversation about redistricting is preliminary.

Linehan previously said that he hoped to have a plan in place by the beginning of the new City Council session in mid-January. But, he said last week, “I don’t have a drop-dead date. I am trying to keep the focus on the process…but the longer it draws out, the more convoluted it becomes.”

Linehan said he expected there will be more redistricting proposals on the table as the process moves forward. The redistricting committee is holding regular hearings.

O’Malley told the Gazette that he would not be surprised if the City Council puts off voting on a new plan until later next year.

The legal deadline for redistricting is one year before nomination papers are due for the 2013 City Council elections, because election laws require council candidates to have lived in their districts for at least a year prior to nomination. That means the City Council does not have to approve a new map at least until spring 2012.

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