Opposition to Congressional district split is rising

November 11, 2011
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By David Taber and John Ruch

Local opposition is rising to a Congressional redistricting plan released Nov. 7 that would split Jamaica Plain and put a huge chunk of the neighborhood into a district that likely would be more politically conservative. The plan is racing toward a vote next week.

The JP Progressives organization and the co-chair of the Ward 19 Democratic Committee are among those questioning the split. Local state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz—who vice-chairs the committee that issued the redistricting plan—withheld her vote on it this week due to constituent concerns, the Gazette has learned.

And local State Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez told the Gazette he is working on a plan that would still split JP, but put part of it into liberal Congressman Barney Frank’s district instead.

Almost all of JP is now in the 8th Congressional District, represented by Michael Capuano. A small part of the Jamaica Hills and Forest Hills area is in the 9th Congressional District, represented by Stephen Lynch. Capuano and Lynch are both Democrats, but Capuano has a more liberal voting record and Lynch’s is more center-right.

The new plan would put much of Forest Hills, Pondside and central JP, and some of Hyde Square, into a new district represented by Lynch.

The intent of the plan is to create a strong minority-majority Congressional district—which Capuano would represent. But JP opposition involves the splitting of the neighborhood and the impact on both its political unity and cultural diversity.

Capuano previously told the Gazette he is “disappointed” by the plan and wants to keep JP in his district.

In a statement emailed to the Gazette, Lynch said he is prepared to serve the neighborhood. “For the past ten years, my friend Congressman Mike Capuano and I have jointly represented Jamaica Plain and the City of Boston,” he wrote. “We work very closely on issues that impact the City of Boston and all of its neighborhoods. While the lines on the map may have changed, our commitment to the people of Jamaica Plain has not. We will continue to work on behalf of the people of Jamaica Plain going forward.”

Most of the precincts that are switching are in Ward 19. Joel Watson, co-chair of the Ward 19 Democratic Committee, said opposition to the change is not “personal.”

“It cuts us off from what we call out natural community” of JP, he said, noting that the parts of JP that are joining the new district are separated from the rest of the district by the Arnold Arboretum.

JP Progressives, a local organization of well-connected political activists, made a similar argument in testimony it submitted to the committee. “[A]s currently drawn the Committee’s map divides a neighborhood that thinks of itself as one place and has worked hard over the years to build a community that includes everyone,” said the testimony, the text of which was emailed to the Gazette.

Watson said he is also upset that the public was only given three days to weigh in on the proposal. The state legislature’s Joint Committee on Redistricting voted the proposal out of committee Nov. 10, clearing the way for it to be brought to the full Legislature.

Chang-Díaz, Senate Vice-Chair of the committee, withheld her committee vote Nov. 10 because of concerns she was hearing from constituents, spokesperson Katherine Adam told the Gazette.

The plan now goes before the entire state legislature for approval. Votes are expected next week.

Sánchez told the Gazette it is unlikely JP will be rejoined, because Capuano’s district was specifically redrawn to create a district where the majority of the voting age population is minority.

But, he said, an argument could be made for joining the area of JP removed from that district with Brookline because JP and Brookline voters share “progressive” interests.

“An argument could be made that there is enough of a community of interest there,” he said.

As the Gazette previously reported, Benjamin Day, chair of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, also voiced concerns about the plan.

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