Keller @ Large: Race at the center of City Council redistricting dispute
BOSTON - During last fall's debate over a Boston City Council redistricting plan that divided longstanding, predominantly-white neighborhoods, emotions ran high on the council floor.
Dorchester Councilor Frank Baker claimed his constituents were "viewing this exercise as an all-out assault on Catholic life in Boston. And it's not lost on them that the person that's leading the charge is a Protestant," a reference to his colleague Liz Breadon of Brighton, an immigrant from County Fermanagh.
"I take it as a personal attack that anyone would doubt my sincerity," she replied.
But now Federal District Court Judge Patty Saris has thrown out the map and rejected key arguments by its supporters, writing in her decision that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in their claim that race was the driving force behind some of the controversial redistricting, and that there is no evidence those white majority districts have been rejecting candidates of color. "Quite the contrary," Saris wrote, citing the last three council elections.
Former City Councilor Larry DiCara says the ruling is an acknowledgement that Boston has changed from the bad old days when flagrant racism prompted the last legal challenge to redistricting 40 years ago. "These patterns have been evolving for a long time, and because Judge Saris grew up in the city and she has seen the city evolve, she understands that," he said.
But as councilors squabbled today over the process of drawing up a new map, Councillor Julia Mejia argued Council President Ed Flynn shouldn't preside over it because he helped bankroll the challenge. "There's a level of mistrust here," she said.
Baker, who also contributed funds to the legal challenge, seconded the motion: "Mistrust was said a little while ago, absolutely mistrust because this process happened around people,"
And today, a new wrinkle - Mayor Michelle Wu says she'll offer up her own plan shortly.
So if race relations in Boston are so much better than they were, why is all this happening?
Because greater political power for people of color hasn't been matched by more economic power, the income disparities are dramatic. The city still has plenty of issues that power the movement to use legal tools like redistricting to promote racial parity.
And there are still plenty of Bostonians who view each other with - as they put it on the council floor today - mistrust.
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