Key Panel Not Swayed By Calls to Unite SouthCoast Cities
BOSTON — Fall River and New Bedford would remain in different Congressional districts under a revised map released on Monday by legislative leaders that disregarded the pressure being applied by some activists and lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. William Keating, to unite to the two SouthCoast cities.
The redistricting plan proposes to adjust the boundaries of the state's nine U.S. House districts to reflect population growth over the past decade.
While the state avoided much of the upheaval witnessed 10 years ago when Massachusetts lost a seat in Congress, the outcome on the SouthCoast had emerged as the major point of controversy in this latest round of redistricting.
The revised map, released by the Special Committee on Redistricting, could surface for a vote in the House as soon as Tuesday, according to leaders, but might also spill over into Wednesday, which under legislative rules is the last day for formal sessions this year.
The plan calls for Fall River, which is currently split between two districts, to be united within the Fourth Congressional District, an area that extends into southeastern Massachusetts from the wealthy western suburbs of Boston and is represented by U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss of Newton.
New Bedford would remain in the 9th Congressional District represented by Keating and anchored on Cape Cod.
Auchincloss, a freshman Congressman girding for a potential challenge from his left, supported the plan that remains intact as it moves closer to a vote in the House and Senate.
Auchincloss in 2020 won the 13 precincts of Fall River that are currently part of his district, with more than 25 percent of the vote in a field of nine Democrats.
Meanwhile, the 2020 primary's second place finisher, Jesse Mermell, is considering another run next year and won less than 10 percent of the Fall River vote.
Some people, including Keating, three state senators and former Congressman Joe Kennedy III, argued that the shared interests and demographics of the two SouthCoast cities would make them natural partners in a single congressional district.
Several prominent Fall River officials, however, said their city would benefit from having two members of Congress fighting for the region.
Those elected officials, including Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan and Rep. Carole Fiola, also told the committee that they believed their city would stand out for its size in the Fourth District, giving it added clout.
Rep. Michael Moran, who led the redistricting effort for the House, said the fact that elected officials from the two cities made arguments for both configurations made it difficult to justify changing the initial decision to split the cities between two districts.
The decision to strengthen the majority-minority status of U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley's district in Boston also had a cascading effect, according to lawmakers, that would make it difficult to put the two population hubs of Fall River and New Bedford together.
Moran, a Boston Democrat, said he and other members of the committee were particularly unswayed by the argument that both Fall River and New Bedford have large Azorean and Portuguese communities.
"Azoreans are not a protected class of people and nowhere on this map will you find us drawing a congressional district for a subset of non-Hispanic whites. When I look at good principles of redistricting, that's not a principle you're going to find," Moran said.
Moran said he found the regional argument that the two cities share economic interests to be the "most effective," but he said that was undercut by the difference of opinion among elected leaders.
He said he thought New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell making a case for unification on behalf of Fall River to be particularly unhelpful to that cause.
"It was like the mayor of Somerville telling us what's best for Boston. When you combine those two arguments, it was tough for us to make a change," Moran said.
Sen. William Brownsberger, who co-chaired the Committee on Redistricting, could not be reached Monday for comment.
The committee also released a plan for the eight Governor's Council districts that will likely be voted on in tandem with the congressional map.
While the division of Fall River and New Bedford remained unchanged from the first draft, the revised redistricting plan did make changes in Hingham, Boston and the Merrimack Valley.
Moran said the updated map no longer divides Hingham, keeping the community whole within the Ninth Congressional District, and makes some changes in Boston along precinct lines to make it easier for the congressional and local boundaries to align.
The revised map also unites Tewksbury in the Sixth Congressional District, which is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton.
Moran said the change was made after some concerns were raised with how Tewksbury has been carved up in the initial draft.
Under the new plan, neighboring Billerica would have one of its precincts subdivided to ensure that the congressional districts can remain nearly equal, with a deviation of just one person.
"For the simplicity of administering the election, we thought we would put Tewksbury in the Sixth and go to one deviation in Billerica," Moran said.
Based on the state's 7.4 percent population growth over the last decade to more than 7 million people, each Congressional district has 781,102 people, plus or minus one person.
Other changes that would be implemented for the 2022 election would be the reconfiguration of western Massachusetts, which would see U.S. Rep. Richard Neal's 1st Congressional District shed some more progressive towns in the northern Pioneer Valley to the Second District, represented by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, of Worcester.
Neal's district, instead, would gain population from the addition of several southern Worcester County communities.
— Matt Murphy, State House News Service