Person of Interest: Kevin Peterson

And justice for all.

Photograph by Simon Simard

Photograph by Simon Simard

Every 10 years, our lawmakers get together to redraw the state’s Congressional districts. It’s supposed to be done in a way that benefits constituents…but it seems to usually wind up benefiting the lawmakers themselves. For many of us, in fact, redistricting represents the worst of government: tedious proceedings, endless wrangling, and just enough backroom dealing to keep you from feeling like you’ve gotten a fair shake.

In the best of times, it’s a frustrating process. Right now, with Massachusetts set to lose one of its 10 U.S. representatives thanks to population shifts, it just may be a critical one. And Kevin Peterson, executive director of the New Democracy Coalition, is determined to make sure that this time, unlike in 2000, the minority community in Massachusetts gets its due.

“I’ve been eyeing this for 10 years,” Peterson says.

The last time we redrew the districts, the committee responsible for the task took enough African-American voters to fill three separate Massachusetts House districts and crammed them into a single electoral bloc. In other words, blacks lived in a broad enough area that they should have been able to have a large say in three districts, but the process was manipulated to limit their influence to one. A federal court eventually overturned the committee’s decision. (Then Speaker of the House Tom Finneran was convicted on a related perjury charge.)

By using the current redistricting effort to create fair districts, Peterson hopes to pave the way for the first Massachusetts minority candidate to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He’s already reached out to minority groups across the state and met with the heads of the joint redistricting committee, which he’s now following to each of its 13 statewide hearings. He’s also at work on maps showing exactly how he thinks the new districts should look, which he plans to unveil in early summer to preemptively influence the committee. And if all his persuasion doesn’t work and the next round of districts again strikes him as unfair, he says he won’t hesitate to sue.

If this all sounds well thought through, he has had a decade to put his plan together.