Fall River and New Bedford politicians split over proposal to unite cities in new congressional district
Massachusetts is the birthplace of the term “gerrymander,” and that’s exactly how critics of the 4th Congressional District describe its limits. The 4th divides Fall River and stretches approximately 50 miles north to include several of Boston’s wealthiest suburbs.
The southern half of Fall River belongs to the Ninth Congressional District, a predominantly coastal district stretching from New Bedford to Plymouth via Cape Cod and the Islands.
A group of leaders of South Coast businesses and nonprofits including Anthony Sapienza, chairman of the New Bedford Economic Development Board, Keith Decker, CEO of Blue Harvest Fisheries and restaurateur Steve Silverstein, recently signed a letter calling the Congress card “the worst in a century”. “
“The argument that municipalities get twice the representation if they are divided is a duck that has been used to justify the gerrymander for generations,” the letter reads. âThe state’s other major regional centers – Boston, Worcester, Springfield and Lowell – have all been regularly represented by residents of their cities and have been well served as a result. “
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said it had been a century since the city sent one of its own residents to the United States House of Representatives.
âThe last member of Congress from New Bedford himself was a man named Joseph Walsh, who lived on Hawthorne Street,â Mitchell said. âHe left Congress in 1921.
Their criticism is aimed at a committee of state lawmakers evaluating the redistribution proposals this month at State House. Redistribution occurs across the country every ten years, as demographic changes recorded in the last census require the recalibration of constituencies to be roughly equal in population.
Fall River and New Bedford were split into separate districts in the last round of redistribution in 2011, even though the cities have a lot in common: large urban school districts, a decades-long opioid crisis, the largest concentration of Americans of Portuguese origin in the country, and a first participation in the American offshore wind industry.
Advocates say bringing communities with similar interests together can amplify their voice in national politics. Beth Huang, a political organizer for the Drawing Democracy Coalition, a progressive group that advised the committee on its maps, said dividing Fall River into two congressional districts had the opposite effect.
âFifty thousand people from Fall River cannot have a substantial influence on a congressional district with a population of nearly 800,000,â Huang said. “However, with a combined population of around 200,000 people, Fall River and New Bedford can certainly have a strong influence on a congressional district.”
Fall River politicians see it differently, complicating a proposal that would otherwise have gone to a redistribution committee focused on centering legislative constituencies around voters of color, who form a growing portion of Fall River’s electorate.
âFall River needs a lot of help, and we believe that having two members of Congress to help us in Washington is not a negative thing,â Mayor Paul Coogan said during a redistribution hearing this week. summer.
State Representative Patricia Haddad, a Democrat from Somerset, said even if the cities were combined, the south coast could still not field a candidate.
“I want to point out that the South Coast had the opportunity to nominate someone in this last election, and although I personally thought about it, there was no one else who was serious about it. “Haddad said.
The nine Democrats who campaigned last year to lead the 4th Congressional District came from Brookline, Newton or Wellesley – suburbs of Boston where the median family income is more than three times that of Fall River or New Bedford. The winner of the election, Congressman Jake Auchincloss of Newton, said this summer he would prefer to keep the north of Fall River in his district.
Bill Keating, the congressman who is expected to absorb northern Fall River if the 4th is rediscovered, said “all points of view must be heard.”
It’s unclear exactly when the redistribution committee will unveil its favorite Congressional cards for a final round of public comment, but the cards must be finalized before candidates withdraw nomination papers next spring.
Ben Berke is the South Coast Bureau reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be contacted at [email protected]