District Eight Councillor Josh Zakim : vulnerable to his hard-working challenger ?

On Friday I wrote a column in which I discussed Boston’s City Council Districts one through Five as well as demographic change that portends big shifts in council candidacies. This time I’m looking at Districts 6 through 9 and then offering a possible map for the next Council re-districting, which will be done based on the 2020 census and be in place for the 2023 Council election. So let’s get right to it :

District Six : as originally created, this District made historic and demographic sense : Jamaica plain and West Roxbury, complete, and naturals to be joined — as for the past 100 years, residents of Jamaica Plain have moved steadily southwest-ward to West Roxbury. In 1982 the two neighborhoods had solid ethnic continuity as well : residents of both were overwhelmingly of Irish ancestry. It had been that way since the 1940s. Today, all this has changed. Jamaica Plain has become the City’s – maybe the entire State’s — premier “progressive” neighborhood. Most present residents of “JP” originated in other states, came to Boston for university, and stayed for careers. The current flavor of “JP” has expnded its reach, too. West Roxbury is witnessing an influx of “JP” types just as it always has. You could see the effects tin November’s vote for Governor. Though Charlie Baker won West Roxbury handily, he failed to top 70 percent in a single precinct, even as he bettered that number in 14 Boston precincts elsewhere (Charlestown, Back Bay, South Boston, Dorchester).

West Roxbury has also become home to a noticeable number of Chinese-Americans, and it retains a long-standing Lebanese and Syrian corner along Washington Street as well as a Jewish corner between Corey Street and West Roxbury Parkway on the Brookline side of VFW Parkway.

Maura Hennigan, daughter of legendary Boston politician Jim Hennigan, was the perfect candidate for District Six as created; we all expected her to be a “traditional” West Roxbury voice for what was then a neighborhood dominated by City employees, but after two terms she recognized that power was moving to “JP,” whose increasingly “progressive” denizens voted almost as a bloc, as the voters of West Roxbury—most of whom just go to work and come home and don’t engage in community activity — did not. This is still the shape of District Six : JP votes as a bloc, West Roxbury voters do not. The present councilor, Matt O’Malley, follows the tactic favored by Hennigan : his personal base, traditionally of Irish ancestry, is West Roxbury, but his voting record tends to JP’s demands.

There hasn’t been much population growth in Six. Thus what has happened to Downtown will force Six to grab many new precincts at the coming re-mapping, add-ons that will interrupt Six’s two-neighborhood character. Until that occurs, however, O’Malley seems likely to continue his win streak. He may well be challenged from the left, as was State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, whose district lay mostly within Six : but unlike Sanchez, who was defeated, O’Malley has a large insurance policy : at least two-thirds of West Roxbury’s 5000 to 7000 votes. More portentous for O’Malley’s future is that in the Suffolk District Attorney race he backed Dorchester’s Greg Henning – which, at the time, looked a smart move to give O’Malley a citywide launch pad for a possible mayor race in 2021. But Henning lost.

District Seven : when created, this was the only single-neighborhood District : all of Roxbury proper. It’s still that, but demographically the District is much altered from its 1982 character. Then, it was almost 95 percent people of color (of various ancestries). Today the mix looks more like 70-30. By 2022 it will likely be 65-35. The Caucasian 30 to 35 is almost all newcomers to Boston; of Roxbury’s long-ago Irish and Italian families hardly any remain. As for the of-color 65 percent, it’s not at all homogeneous. Some are Cape Verdean, some Somalian, some Hispanic. That the City’s big mosque sits in the district, at Roxbury crossing, certainly boosts the number of Islamic-faith voters. On the other hand, Caucasian votes are arriving via the bull market in this District’s real estate. It has boosted Roxbury house prices above $ 600,000 everywhere; in favored parts, you’ll find prices climbing toward $ 2 million. The Fort Hill, Moreland-Winthrop, and St James Street sections of Seven have become almost South End in price and population: two or three of Seven’s precincts now have a Caucasian majority. Dudley square, too, is fast becoming a new-Boston, high end milieu.

It would not at all surprise me to see District Seven eventually elect a  South End sort of candidate, but for now, the incumbent, Kim Janey, looks secure. She won the seat convincingly in 2017, topping a 14-candidate field seeking to succeed Councillor Tito Jackson, who decided to run for mayor. Though a challenge to Janey is almost certain in a District this diverse (and politically disunited), I have yet to hear of a major name stepping forward. We may well find out, at the traditional Martin Luther King day breakfast at the John Eliot Church, if there will be one.

District Eight : the shape of this District should have been different. Ideally Beacon Hill, Back Bay, and Bay Village should have been joined to the South End. But there was no way to get this done, given the geography: Mission Hill lay far, far separate from South Boston. So we accepted the reality, paired the South End with South Boston, and forced the Irish-ancestry, working class precincts of Mission Hill to partner with the very upper income blocks along Commonwealth, Marlboro, and Beacon Streets.

We hoped that Susan Iannella, daughter of legendary Councillor Chris Iannella, would win Eight: but partisan politics leached into the race. Susan was a Republican, her opponent was a Democrat, and Democratic partisans took hold of the contest, and thus her opponent won and she did not. A shame.

Today Mission Hill is no longer Irish-ancestry or working class. Rents in the $ 4,000 range and up have made it a tony area, albeit still far short of the rents that accompany the $ 5 million to $ 10 million that owners of “Ward Five” town houses ask and get. That said, there has never been any doubt that the Councillor for Eight would come from the upper income precincts of “Ward Five.” Today that Councillor is Josh Zakim, son of the philanthropist Leonard Zakim (yes, the Zakim bridge is name for him). Josh chose last year to challenge Secretary of State Bill Galvin and was trounced; the loss has certainly left him vulnerable to Helene Vincent, a challenger who entered the lists last year and is campaigning hard. Can she defeat Zakim ? It’s possible.

District Nine : it was hardly rocket science to shape this District. Geographically, Brighton and Allston are set apart from the rest of the City. Their population in 1982 was the ideal size for a District. Ergo, Brighton and Allston. It’s still the case. Size isn’t the only factor. Nine has experienced significant population change. Student housing has expanded a lot; an entire new residential block has sprung up on North Allston Street next to where Harvard University is building anew. The intersection of Western Avenue and Harvard Street is coming to life.

On the other hand, the Oak Square part of Brighton has retained its long-standing character as home to Irish-ancestry families, many of them City employees or city-connected. (Which is why the awesome Devlin’s Restaurant in Brighton Center still commands its huge following.) Nine’s Councillor has always been from the Oak Square tong – this really is one of the City’s strongest traditional power blocs – backed by State Representatives who have given Nine’s Councillors enormous staying power. (Think Brian Golden, long a BRA – now BPDA – Board member, or Kevin Honan, who has been an Allston State Rep forever, or Mike Moran, whose mid-September Oak Park outings draw upwards of 500 people and dozens of smart politicians.)

Today, Nine’s Councillor is Mark Ciommo – not of Irish ancestry, but of an Italian community which, too, has long lived at the center of the District (along Winship Street and adjoining; almost all of them came to Brighton from one town, San Donato, to work in local quarries.) and whose best known representative is probably Fred Salvucci, formerly a department head in both City and State administrations. He remains a very influential figure in land use discussion, of which in Brighton-Allston there are plenty.

Ciommo faced two significant challengers in 2017, both of them newcomers to Boston. He dispatched his runoff opponent handily. Friends insist to me that Ciommo this time might fall; myself, I doubt that. Turnout in Nine in Nine is always smaller than the City average. In a non-mayor election it will be even smaller. The decision will be made, if there is one, in the Oak Square part of the District.

And now my proposed eleven-district Council map :

District One : East Boston (42,000) Charlestown (18,000) and Seaport (Ward 6 Precinct One, 15,000)

District Two A: Ward 3 (60,000), Ward 8 Precincts One and Two, 8000, and Bay Village (Ward 5, Precinct One, 7500)

District 2 –B : South Boston (48,000); Polish triangle (5,000) South End except for 8/1 and 2 (19,000)

District 3 : remove Polish Triangle and Ward 15, Precincts 2 and 3) (72,000)

District 4 : remove Ward 14 Precincts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (72,000)

District 5 : remove Ward 19 precincts 7, 10 through 13 (70,000)

District 6 : remove Ward 10 precincts 6 through 9 and Ward 19 Precinct One; add Ward 19 Precincts 7 and 10 through 13) (71,000)

District 7 A : Ward 10 (32,000); Ward 11, precincts 1 through 5 (18,000); Ward 9 Precincts 3 through 5 (10,000); Ward 4, Precincts 9 and 10 (6000); Ward 19, Precinct One (3500) 69,000

District 7-B : Ward 12 (20,000); Ward 8 precincts 3 through 7 (17,000); Ward 7, Precinct 10 (3000); Ward 13 precincts 1, 2, 4 (6000); Ward 15, precincts 1 , 2, 3 (5000); Ward 14 precincts 1 through 5 (15,000) (66,000)

District 8 : Ward 5, except for Precinct One; Ward 21, precincts 1, 2, and 4; Ward 4 precincts 6 through 8 (72,000

District 9 : same as now except remove Ward 21, precincts 2 and 4 (72,000)

Please feel free to critique my map. I’ve intended to begin a discussion, not end one.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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