SouthCoast Unification Effort Gains Support on Beacon Hill
A push to amend the legislature's draft congressional map to unite Fall River and New Bedford in a single district continues to pick up steam, now counting senators from both cities, Cape Cod and the islands as well as a former congressman among its ranks.
Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro and former U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who until January represented the 4th Congressional District that includes parts of Fall River, both declared their support on Wednesday for updating the redistricting proposal to combine the two SouthCoast cities in one congressional district.
Cyr, who is one of seven senators on the Redistricting Committee, told the News Service he has "significant concerns" about further dividing Fall River and New Bedford into two separate districts under the proposal his committee's chairs rolled out Monday.
His state Senate district, covering most of the Cape, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, does not include either Fall River or New Bedford, but Cyr said he believes those areas should all be part of a single congressional district as "communities of shared interest."
"We've got a lot of the same challenges and problems and issues and opportunities on Cape Cod and the islands as we do on the SouthCoast and the South Shore," Cyr said, citing offshore wind development and coastal impacts from climate change as examples.
"Particularly on the SouthCoast but also on Cape Cod, we're talking about the largest diaspora of Cape Verdeans from Cabo Verde, one of the largest in the country."
Standing about 15 miles apart along the state's southern coast, Fall River and New Bedford have roughly similar socioeconomic makeups and both play significant roles in maritime industries such as fishing and the burgeoning offshore wind sector.
They have been divided across congressional districts to some degree for decades, including under the current map, which slices off part of Fall River as the southernmost portion of the 4th Congressional District and places the rest in the 9th Congressional District.
The draft map Redistricting Committee co-chairs Rep. Mike Moran of Brighton and Sen. Will Brownsberger of Belmont released Monday would no longer divide Fall River and would keep the entire city in the 4th District while leaving New Bedford in the 9th District, dismaying lawmakers and advocates who continue to push for their union.
"I worry that with the current map as it's constructed, you basically have two of the neediest communities in the commonwealth in Fall River and New Bedford, as currently proposed, at the tail end of two districts," Cyr said.
Moving Fall River, which is the state's 10th-largest city and had a population of 94,000 people in the 2020 U.S. Census, into the 9th District could have a cascading effect on multiple other districts.
To keep total population close to even in each district, the 9th District today represented by Congressman William Keating would need to shed other communities while picking up Fall River, and the 4th District held by Congressman Jake Auchincloss would need to add cities or towns elsewhere.
Keating's district borders only Auchincloss's district and the 8th District held by Congressman Stephen Lynch, while the 4th District touches the 8th, the 9th, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley's 7th District, Congresswoman Katherine Clark's 5th District, and Congressman Jim McGovern's 2nd District.
"In my reading of the maps, the redrawing that would need to occur would only be between CD9 and CD4," Cyr said. "There are several communities that were in CD4 in the last decade that were put into CD9 that can be put back into CD4. And then with a few other changes, I think it's possible to draw a coastal southern Massachusetts district that does not impact any of the other congressional districts."
Cyr said he is "optimistic" that legislators will alter its original plan by sliding Fall River from the 4th District into the 9th District, noting that the Senate amended its own political boundaries after facing criticism for not originally creating a majority-minority district anchored around Brockton.
Kennedy, who represented parts of Fall River for the eight years he held the 4th District seat, declared on Wednesday that the Legislature should adjust the maps to "put Fall River and New Bedford together. Period."
"I saw firsthand how often the South Coast has to fight twice as hard for half as much. And I know that is an injustice echoed in Gateway Cities all across our 'progressive' state," Kennedy said in a statement circulated by the Drawing Democracy Coalition.
"Unifying New Bedford and Fall River into one Congressional district will create an essential power center for all of the South Coast's families, particularly the working-class and immigrant communities that anchor the region. And we will all be better served by a political map that brings more diversity and more lived experience to our highest halls of power — not less."
The former congressman did not weigh in on a specific strategy for making that change, such as sliding Fall River into the 9th District, which both Cyr and Sen. Michael Rodrigues of Westport — whose district covers Fall River — endorsed.
Rodrigues, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, on Tuesday called the draft redistricting map "a missed opportunity to unite the two working-class communities of the South Coast."
"Together, these two anchor cities of the South Coast, represent one of the largest concentrations of Azoreans in the world, and this shared cultural heritage is woven into the fabric of our communities," Rodrigues said in a statement.
"Facing the same challenges and aspiring to the same goals, we share a regional economic interest in the completion of South Coast Rail, the development of the offshore wind industry, the presence of the Blue Economy, the combined One Southcoast Chamber of Commerce, and the unified health services of Southcoast Health Systems."
Cyr also recounted the 1981 redistricting process, when he said the drafting of the 4th District was "one of the most blatant political gerrymanders in a state that has a very unfortunate, long history of gerrymandering" aimed at then-Congressman Barney Frank.
"The arguments for why we should unite Fall River and New Bedford in the same congressional district — we're hearing more and more and more of them," Cyr said.
"What I haven't really heard is a cogent reason for why we keep Fall River part of this suburb, MetroWest, southeastern Mass. coastal district that is a relic from what was an aggressive and potentially homophobic gerrymander that dates back from 1981."
New Bedford's senator, Sen. Mark Montigny on Wednesday pledged that he would push for creation of a SouthCoast district, calling the continued separation of Fall River and New Bedford "an unjust and inequitable division."
— Chris Lisinski, State House News Service
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