|/Posted Month Day, Year/
|Q&A with Councilor Linehan
|By Rick Winterson
City Councilor Bill Linehan dropped into the South Boston Online office this week for a Question-and-Answer session. The topic: The City of Boston redistricting plan just approved by a majority of the City Council.
by Rick Winterson
Q. Bill, why do you think you were chosen to handle the redistricting effort?
A. I have over 25 years of experience working across this City in virtually all its neighborhoods. Council President Murphy and my colleagues knew I could handle the task.
Q. Tell me about the overall requirements in redistricting.
A. The City’s population grew by 5% since the 2000 U.S. Census, almost all of that in the five northern districts. We had to redraw the district boundaries so that every district had approximately the same population of 68,600. Each newly drawn district had to be “contiguous” (not made up of separate pieces); another objective was to keep every individual precinct whole and “as is”.
Q. How did you approach the redistricting process?
A. After absorbing all the Census data, I set up a series of public hearings in neighborhoods across the City, where the changes would in all likelihood occur. Eventually we held 22 public events: nine public hearings, nine public committee meetings, and four public working sessions. We met and talked to people from all sections of the City.
Eight maps were developed for ordinance by various members of the Council. I considered all proposals, and as Chair of the Redistricting Committee, I submitted a final plan, which was approved by the Council 7-6. This plan contained various components of other submitted plans.
Q. What challenges did you run into?
A. It was an extremely political exercise, especially since (by law) the City Council must hold all deliberations in public. Discourse did not come easily and at times, needed prodding. My district, District Two, received enormous attention due to the extremely close 2011 election, but I felt I had maintained my objectivity throughout the process and eventually, all that needed to be vetted, was.
Q. Why did the process take so long (19 months)?
A. The process did take longer than I expected, but remember, we held 22 public meetings and sessions. These took many months to arrange and act upon. Then there was research at the start and drafting of proposed maps later on.
Q. The first draft redistricting proposal kept South Boston “as is”. Why did that change later on?
A. There was a major population imbalance – 74,000 in District Two; 60,000 in District Three. That meant we had to assign South Boston’s three southern precincts (7-7, 7-8, 7-9) in District Two to Dorchester in District Three. There really was no other way to get the required balance. The same problem happened in the South End, also.
Q. Please comment on the Mayor’s reaction to your final redistricting proposal.
A. The Mayor’s response in the press was appropriate and valid. He has to be sure the redistricting plan meets all the requirements and was a fair and equitable process. I believe he’ll sign off on it.
Q. Were you surprised by the Council’s 7-6 vote?
A. Yes. I thought it would go 8-5 or even 9-4, based on the plan. Based on our discussions, attempts were made to win over various Councilors, but in the end it wasn’t enough. By the way, we are not allowed to poll the Council members. I feel good that six out of nine district-based Councilors voted to approve.
Q. Where do we go from here?
A. Assuming the Mayor signs off, it goes to the Secretary of State for final approval. Many redistricting plans are challenged in court, so it’s likely this one will be also. But I believe it will withstand any court challenges; we did this right.
Q. Has South Boston lost or gained any political influence by redistricting?
A. No. I think it pretty much stayed the same.
Q. Any other comments, Bill?
A. The redistricting job was hard and difficult; I used all my political skill to develop the best plan for the City of Boston. However, in the end, I’d like to thank Council President Steve Murphy for offering me this challenge. I learned a great deal in the process – about myself, my colleagues, and the City of Boston.