Letter: Concerns about JP’s Congressional split

November 18, 2011
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The following letter was sent to the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Redistricting:

I write to you in response to the proposed Congressional redistricting boundaries published by the committee on Nov. 7, to express deep concern about the proposal’s impact on the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. I write expressing my personal opinions and not those of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, which I chair, as the council will not have time to meet in the three days the committee has allowed for public comment on the proposed new boundaries—three days that also overlapped with municipal elections in Boston, making public education and public feedback from our neighborhood difficult.

The proposed redistricting plan is driven by goals that I strongly support: to ensure the creation of a “majority minority” district in Eastern Massachusetts, and more broadly to protect against the marginalization of communities of interest (whether ethnic, racial or other).

The proposed district boundaries would move almost one-third of JP’s population—11,921 residents in 19 precincts, according to the 2010 Census—from the current District 8, the most diverse district in the state, into a newly created district with one of the state’s less diverse populations.

Jamaica Plain is a neighborhood with a strong sense of identity, and it is a community of interest unto itself just as strong as many municipalities in the state that the committee has attempted not to divide in half with district boundaries. Beyond this, Jamaica Plain has a political and cultural identity that has historically linked it to neighborhoods that fall under the committee’s proposed District 7, and very little historical connection with the proposed District 8. For this reason, I am concerned that JP residents in the 19 affected precincts would feel marginalized within their new district, and would lack a broader “community of interest” to ensure their adequate representation in Congress. I anticipate that thousands of JP residents would react to their change in representation with disappointment and concern. These concerns are motivated by the same principles that have guided the committee’s attempts to ensure that communities of interest, to the extent that they are geographically contiguous, are able to maximize their representation in Congress.

Jamaica Plain is one of the few diverse neighborhoods left in Boston—moreover in the state, where black, Hispanic, white and LGBT communities share a social and geographic space. Ensuring that such diversity is mutually supportive and dynamic, and that we are not working at cross-purposes, is an ongoing challenge. I fear that drawing a Congressional line through our neighborhood will make this work even more difficult, as we would find ourselves with different Congressional representatives and very different political dynamics to seek representation.

This committee’s work is extremely important and, particularly given the redistricting process following the 2000 Census, has been a model of integrity and carefully considered goals. I would urge the committee to reconsider the division of Jamaica Plain in its work towards achieving these goals.

Benjamin Day, Chair, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council