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South Coast leaders oppose splitting South Coast cities in congressional redistricting

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MA Legislature
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A proposed congressional map would place Fall River and New Bedford in separate districts.

The South Coast’s biggest cities, Fall River and New Bedford, fall into separate congressional districts under a proposal being considered at the statehouse. But many local leaders say the split will dilute the region’s political power and are fighting to change the plan.

Next Tuesday, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Redistricting will hold a virtual hearing on the proposed map. Anthony Sapienza, who heads the New Bedford economic Development Council, plans to testify against it.

“I was offended quite frankly. Shocked and offended,” said Sapienza of his initial reaction to the plan. “These are two old manufacturing cities that are making the transition to the new economy. It makes all kinds of sense for them to be aligned in the same congressional district.”

Grassroots activists say uniting the cities would give more voice to the South Coast’s growing immigrant population. “It’s a matter of demographics,” said Dax Crocker, of the Coalition for Social Justice. “Fall River and New Bedford are on the rise — immigrants from Brazil, immigrants from Guatemala, immigrants from Cape Verde. So taking away half of them is diluting the political power of people of color.”

The proposed split has also been panned in public statements by local politicians. State Senator Mark Montigny of New Bedford said the two cities “share many common economic interests such as offshore wind, commuter rail, and advanced manufacturing. Simply put, our interests do not align with affluent Boston-area suburbs or the South Shore.”

Currently, parts of Fall River share a congressional district with wealthier Boston suburbs, including Newton and Brookline.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, Congressman Bill Keating and former Congressman Joe Kennedy III have also issued statements opposing the proposed map.

Tuesday’s hearing is open to public comment for those who register in advance.

Crocker is hopeful the redistricting committee will unite Fall River and New Bedford before finalizing the congressional map for next decade. “I’m very hopeful and positive that they are negotiating in good faith and that they’re open to listening to the community.”