Redistricting plans call for new U.S. reps.

August 12, 2011
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Proposals from advocacy groups for redrawing federal legislative district—put forward last month as the state legislature finished a series of 13 public hearings on the topic—would have a significant impact on who represents Jamaica Plain in Congress.

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano said in an email that he supports the advocates’ goal of increasing minority representation in the 8th Congressional District, but that he wants to keep the district and keep JP in it.

Proposals from the statewide Drawing Democracy Coalition and the Massachusetts Black Empowerment Coalition for Redistricting would redraw the 8th District, which includes Chelsea, Cambridge, Somerville and most of Boston,

The 8th is the only district in the state where the overall population is majority-minority—meaning most of its residents are people of color—said Alejandra St. Guillen, executive director of the Latino advocacy group ¿Oiste?—a member organization of the Drawing Democracy Coalition.

But the advocates’ goal is to redraw the district so that minorities make up the majority of the voting-age population. The Greater Boston area “is the only place to do it. The population does not support a minority district anywhere else in the state,” St. Guillen said.

All of the proposals put forward by the groups would set up potential electoral challenges in the district. “We did not talk names. All we talked was numbers,” St. Guillen said.

Drawing Democracy put forward two proposals. The first extends the district north to Malden and Everett. The second extends it south, so it is covering part of Milton and all of Randolph.

Both proposals also cut sections of the Jamaica Pond area out of that district.

And they would each set up potential primary battles between incumbents who would be representing JP. One of them would put Everett, 7th District incumbent Edward Markey’s hometown, in the 8th District, setting up a potential fight with Capuano. In the other, Markey and 4th District Congressman Barney Frank would be vying for the new 7th District seat, which would take over Brookline and some of western JP.

In both alternatives, a small part the 9th District in southern JP, represented by Stephen Lynch, would be taken over by the 7th District.

“While I understand that each district will have to make changes, I am hopeful that the 9th District will remain intact as possible,” Lynch said in a statement emailed to the Gazette.

The Black Empowerment Coalition did not respond to repeated Gazette requests for comment for this article. Its proposal for the 8th District would mean no incumbent would be living in the new district, press reports say. The new district would include Brockton, Cambridge, Milton, Randolph and Chelsea, and parts of Boston, according to press reports. Capuano lives in Somerville.

“I am proud to represent the first majority non-white district in Massachusetts and I hope that the redrawn district reflects an even greater percentage. I am also very happy to represent Jamaica Plain residents in Washington and hope the community remains in the newly drawn district,” he said.

It is unclear what impact the proposals will have on the eventual redistricting proposals due out from the state legislature later this year. Local state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, vice chair of the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Redistricting, said the committee will likely look at broader criteria than the advocacy groups when it presents its proposals for a vote late this year.

Chang-Díaz said the Joint Committee is looking at the population snapshot data the groups used, but it is also looking at projected demographic changes. “We are looking at growth. We have to account for what changes are going to happen,” she said.

Asked by the Gazette about redistricting, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said, “I am especially keen to see districts that are intuitive, that there are communities of interest, [and] that they are competitive.” Patrick said he is not supporting a particular plan for redistricting.

Because the state’s population did not grow as fast as the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census, Massachusetts is losing one U.S. congressional seat this year. The Massachusetts legislature is responsible for redrawing federal and state legislative districts every 10 years, following the completion of the U.S. Census.

The Joint Committee plans to present its plans for approval by the legislature this fall.

John Ruch contributed to the article.