For Ed Flynn, awkward roles of race healer and redistricting foe
South Boston city councilor is key player in heated debate
WHEN WILLIAM FAULKNER famously observed that “the past is never dead, it isn’t even past,” he wasn’t referring to Boston’s troubled history on matters of race – but he might as well have been.
In the midst of the city reflecting on the life of Mel King – framed by the idea that his historic run for mayor 40 years ago ushered in a new day in Boston race relations – the divisions that once defined the city seem to have sprung back to life in a federal lawsuit challenging new city council district lines approved by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor Michelle Wu last fall. And in a generational echo of the 1983 race that pitted King against ultimate victor Ray Flynn, the former mayor’s son, Ed Flynn, figures prominently in the current conflict over redistricting.
Ed Flynn has cut a profile much like the one his father had after becoming mayor, a loyal son of Southie who has gone to great lengths to promote racial harmony and heal divisions, not inflame them. The redistricting showdown, however, is testing that in a way the younger Flynn hasn’t faced since winning his seat in 2017.
The council approved the new map governing its nine district-based seats on a 9-4 vote, with its four more moderate White members voting against the plan.
Flynn and Baker joined at-large city councilors Michael Flaherty and Erin Murphy in voting against the plan. Opponents say the map has fractured longtime communities, with Flynn objecting to the splitting of two big South Boston public housing developments into separate districts. Baker has lashed out at the division into separate districts of the precincts surrounding the Adams Village business area in southern Dorchester.
Baker has contributed $10,000 from his campaign account to the federal lawsuit challenging the map, and all four of the councilors who voted against the plan were at the Moakley federal courthouse on Monday, where a judge is hearing arguments in a case seeking an injunction to stop the map from going into effect for the municipal election this fall.
The arguments animating the opposition can have a head spinning feel to them, depending on who’s speaking.
While proponents of the new map say they were guided by the federal Voting Rights Act, which is designed to protect minority voting power, Baker has ripped the plan as an attack on White voters.
“They’re telling us White people don’t matter,” he said at a heated South Boston community meeting on the redistricting plan last October.
Flynn took a decidedly different tack at the meeting. He’s aligned with the council’s three most conservative White members in a stark divide that’s hard to ignore. But Flynn argued that the bloc of nine councilors who approved the map, which includes all six minority members, were ignoring minority residents by breaking Southie’s public housing projects, which have large minority populations, into separate districts.
“When my colleagues tried to divide communities of color in my district, that’s personal to me,” Flynn said.