Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ward Representation moves closer to the Springfield ballot

The Home Rule legislation which will allow a question on ward representation to be placed on this November's ballot has passed the House of Representatives and is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow in the Senate's Rules Committee, according to Candace Lopes, aide to Sen. Stephen Buoniconti, when I spoke to her yesterday.

The legislation will have plenty of time to pass the full Senate to make it on our city's November's ballot.

When the City Council finally passed an 8 & 5 version of ward representation last October, it was with the threat of our-- Arise, the NAACP and Oiste's-- federal lawsuit going to trial in just a few months.

I watched the proceedings on community access TV with a great cynicism. I knew that it was the lawsuit that had finally forced the City Council's hand, that they'd begun to see ward representation as an irresistible force. Even then they passed as weak a version as they could get away with, and didn't even pass it outright -- they voted to put the question on November's ballot. Ten years ago our coalition worked the streets and collected enough signatures to get the 8 & 3 version of ward representation on the ballot, and it won 58% of the vote! It did not become law because one-third of all the registered voters would have had to vote for it-- and not that many turned out for the whole election.

Not once during the evening's proceeding was there even a mention of the twelve solid years of community organizing that had gotten us to this point-- and of course the council did not call themselves out on their twelve years of foot-dragging, broken promises and outright lies. There were a few councilors along the way who were exceptions-- but they were never in the majority. (Oh-- and Tim Rooke, who never once lied about his opposition to ward representation.)

Our lawsuit was stayed by Judge Ponser pending the outcome of the Home Rule legislation and the November vote. I want to stop and say a heartfelt thanks here to the
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Goodwin Proctor, who took on our lawsuit pro bono and who have been passionately committed and intelligent in their work with us. They mined the collective memory of community organizers to compile many lifetimes of racial injustice, police brutality, economic discrimination and thwarted expectations. Much of this was never heard in trial.

Twelve years of organizing-- petitioning, two lawsuits, lobbying the councilors, building community support-- has now come down to a binding vote for eight ward councilors and five at large for the City Council, and four ward reps and two at large for the School Committee (with the mayor as the deciding vote).

We, the plaintiffs, have to decide whether we will actively support the question. At this point we are not of one mind. We have to talk to each other. We're tired, bitter, feeling betrayed. And yet.

The Arise board of directors met last night and while we postponed an official vote until we know for sure that people will get to vote on ward rep in November, my sense is that we will throw ourselves into rebuilding a coalition and getting this law passed. This time, it only has to pass by a majority.

One built-in shortcoming of our lawsuit is that it has focused the public's attention on the racial inequity of the current at-large system, to the exclusion of all the other excellent reasons we need ward representation. I'm going to write more about them in another post. But I have to say, one more time, for the record:
Forty-six years of an at large system

Five Blacks and one Latino elected

in a city now a majority of color.

Enough is enough.

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