Council map would link Hill, Roxbury; Ross would lose seat

February 10, 2012
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A Boston City Council redistricting map proposed by civil rights groups would put Mission Hill into the same district as Roxbury in an effort to boost minority voting power. Mission Hill resident Mike Ross would lose his council seat, with Tito Jackson representing most of the neighborhood instead.

Ross and Jackson told the Gazette that they support the overall goal of minority empowerment. But Ross said he opposes the plan, while Jackson expressed doubt that it could pass a council vote.

“I do not believe this map is a good map for Mission Hill,” Ross said, adding that the final set-up must “benefit the people I represent today.”

“There is a historic aspect to this in terms of Mission Hill’s connection to Roxbury,” said Jackson. “That community has, for so many years, been pulled apart.” He added that that other map proposals may need to go on the table.

Lydia Lowe of the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA), one of the groups behind the map, said the plan is not about incumbents. Instead, it is about the long-term future of minority empowerment. Boston is now majority people of color, but the City Council is mostly white. Ross is Jewish, and Jackson is black.

“It was definitely not coming out of any particular concern about [Ross’s] service to communities of color,” Lowe said. “It wasn’t…targeting him or focusing on incumbents at all.”

The council districts are redrawn every 10 years, after each U.S. Census, to make them roughly equal in population. The council has a committee reviewing various new maps and aims to put one in place this spring. A previous map from the committee itself, already rejected, also would have booted Ross.

Ross represents District 8, which covers most of Mission Hill as well as the Fenway, Back Bay and Beacon Hill. Jackson represents District 7, which includes parts of Mission Hill along Columbus Avenue as well as parts of Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Fenway, South End and Dorchester.

The map proposed by the CPA and others would put Mission Hill into District 7. Its other big changes would be to separate Chinatown from South Boston, and to divide Dorchester’s districts east-west rather than north-south.

Part of the Back of the Hill would remain in District 6, which includes Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury. Matt O’Malley, who is white, currently holds that seat.

Some other prominent groups behind the map include the NAACP Boston Branch, MassVOTE and Oíste.

Mission Hill’s past and present are at tension in the map. Mission Hill has a history as part of Roxbury and shares many political interests with it. But Ross is a popular incumbent who deliberately moved to Mission Hill from Beacon Hill several years ago. On the other hand, as Lowe noted, he recently considered a run for Congress that likely would have seen him move out.

“We like having Mike Ross as our representative and we’re used to the [current] district,” said Craig Lankhorst, chair of the local Ward 10 Democratic Committee, speaking personally rather than for the committee. “It’s nothing against Tito Jackson. We like him.”

“I really support the process of looking at more minority districts,” Lankhorst added, saying more options would be welcome.

“The fact that the majority of the Boston City Council is white, and [12 of 13 councilors are] male, should be something we consider,” Ross said. “I think we need to figure out a way to do this that is most fair and most just for all neighborhoods and for any neighborhood or community that feels under-represented.”

“The underlying tenet is around making sure communities of color are well-represented…[and have] the ability to field candidates,” Jackson said. “I think there are some other [map] configurations we may need to look at…[as a] way to get that passed.”

The idea of knitting Mission Hill and Roxbury back together in a “community of interest” is another goal of the plan. But, Lankhorst noted, Mission Hill has a lot in common with other neighborhoods in its current district on such issues as institutional expansion.

Ross noted that the civil rights groups’ map keeps in place a lot of other neighborhood pairings that could be seen as odd couples.

“Does West Roxbury have anything to do with Jamaica Plain? Does Hyde Park have anything to do with Mattapan?” he asked. “Each of our neighborhoods is unique.”

“This was the best map we came up with,” Lowe said, noting the difficulty of drawing up any district map. Ross recently met with the CPA about the proposal, and there may be outreach to other Mission Hill leaders, she said.

Lowe noted a larger reason that the groups drew their own map: “The public process has been flawed.” She said the City Council committee allowed for public input on setting priorities for redistricting, but has not sought similar input on the actual maps it is proposing.

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