US Representative Bill Keating is not exactly the most high profile or vocal member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation. But Keating, who represents the Ninth District, has been adamant and forceful in his opposition to the Legislature’s proposed new congressional districts — a proposal that has caused great controversy for its failure to put together the sizeable cities of Fall River and New Bedford in the same district.
Proposed Congressional map risks diluting voting power of working-class, immigrant communities on Southcoast
BOSTON – Representatives of the Drawing Democracy Coalition and Southcoast community leaders testified today before the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting in support of uniting Fall River and New Bedford into the Ninth Congressional District. For months, Drawing Democracy and its partners have advocated for the new map to make the city of Fall River whole AND unite it with the immigrant communities of New Bedford in the Ninth District. Drawing Democracy's Unity Map achieved these goals while preserving the majority-minority status of the Seventh District.
The draft Congressional map released by the Redistricting Committee Co-Chairs last week instead put all of Fall River in the Fourth District with wealthy suburbs of Boston, thus limiting opportunities for immigrant, BIPOC and low-income voters in Fall River and New Bedford to elect candidates of their choice.
“Southcoast folks who live in this area, especially Portuguese Azoreans and (portuguese-speaking) Brazilians and Cape Verdeans who live in Swansea, Somerset, Fall River, Westport, Dartmouth and New Bedford must be united in one Congressional District,” said Dax Crocker, Democracy HUB Coordinator for the Coalition for Social Justice, a Drawing Democracy Coalition steering committee member. “Splitting them in two disempowers them politically and the issues they care about will go unaddressed.”
“UIA has seen firsthand how the needs of New Bedford and Fall River are intricately linked, particularly when it comes to housing and education. These are simply not the same needs as the rest of this proposed Congressional District, particularly among the wealthy suburbs of Boston,” said Andrea Sheppard Lomba, Executive Director of United Interfaith Action of Southeastern MA (UIA), a Drawing Democracy Coalition member. “The Southcoast deserves political representation that comes from, serves, and works alongside its people for their interests. We are asking for this region to be united in Congressional representation.”
“New Bedford and Fall River are postindustrial gateway cities. We have been working and moving together for years,” said New Bedford City Councilor-elect Shane Burgo. “Our two cities came together to form what we now call UMASS Dartmouth, previously known as SMU, from New Bedford Textile School and the Bradford Durfee Textile School in Fall River. Our cities already share one chamber of commerce under the name of One Southcoast. We both have seaports that are venturing into offshore wind. The list of comparisons and synergies goes on and on.”
“New Bedford and Fall River share common struggles and interests – such as housing instability, food insecurity, educational attainment, economic challenges, youth violence and the opioid crisis – but we also have a shared vision for our cities of the Southcoast, which gives us a basis to stand and work together,” said Renee Ledbetter, President of the Board of United Interfaith Action of Southeastern MA and Vice President of the NAACP New Bedford Branch. “However, when you take wealthy, politically powerful suburbs of Boston and combine them into a Congressional district with a major urban, Gateway City such as Fall River, the differences in interests and needs are obvious. This is why we are asking the Redistricting Committee to do what is right for the Southcoast and represent our best interests by uniting Fall River and New Bedford.”
“Our immigrant populations in New Bedford and Fall River have been under-represented politically for decades, which in return, has greatly impacted their income levels, health disparities, crime and lower educational attainment. Our voice gets constantly ignored because the affluent and powerful communities dominate the Fourth and Ninth Congressional Districts,” said Helena DaSilva Hughes, President of the Immigrants Assistance Center in New Bedford. “During the pandemic, both cities were hard hit with COVID cases but were last in receiving vaccines. Even though our immigrant communities were front line and essential workers, it still did not matter because our voice did not have the political power to be heard. We have an opportunity to correct the political disparities that our cities have faced in the past decade by uniting New Bedford and Fall River.”
“The Southcoast has been marginalized for years,” said Anthony Sapienza, President of the New Bedford Economic Development Council and Co-Chair of the Regeneration Project. “Now is the time to unite Fall River and New Bedford in a truly representative and powerful district.”
A growing coalition of local leaders and organizations have come out in support of uniting Fall River and New Bedford, including Congressman Bill Keating, former Congressman Joe Kennedy, State Senators Michael Rodrigues, Mark Montigny and Julian Cyr, State Representative Alan Silvia, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, NAACP New Bedford and 22 business and non-profit leaders.
Legislative leaders crafting Massachusetts’ congressional map pushed back on Tuesday against criticisms of their decision to split the South Coast’s two major cities into separate districts, punctuating hours of deeply divided — and sometimes parochial — testimony over how best to draw boundaries through the region.