Merrimack Valley Leaders Urge Senate Not to Split Gateway Cities in New Voting Districts

WHAV News graphic.

Local leaders and most of the area’s legislative delegation are calling on state Senate leadership not to split individual gateway cities, such as Haverhill, Methuen and Lawrence, between any future Senate districts.

Leaders reacted to, what they called, “motivations” to “create a majority citizens voting age population district of one demographic.” New legislative districts are being considered following U.S. Census findings that the Massachusetts population has grown and shifted between communities.

“We understand that there are several principles at play in the redistricting process including equity, minority representation, fairness and ‘keeping communities whole.’ We agree with these principles, which is why we write today with great concern for any proposed plan that could split the Gateway City of Haverhill and dilute the voices of our constituents,” Mayor James J. Fiorentini and all members of the Haverhill City Council wrote in a letter dated last Wednesday. Rep. Andy Vargas released the letter Friday.

As WHAV reported previously, the Drawing Democracy Coalition proposed adding nine House districts and four Senate districts where people of color represent the majority of the population. Local officials pointed out, however, that it is possible for the state Senate to develop a majority minority or majority single demographic district without splitting up Haverhill.

A separate appeal, dated Friday, from most of the legislative delegation was sent to Senate President Karen E. Spilka and Sen. William N. Brownsberger, chair of the Redistricting Committee.

“Our gateway cities are the Commonwealth’s economic and cultural hubs, but also have unique challenges and distinct needs. As such, we strongly support a plan which draws districts where gateway cities are kept whole and serve as anchors. Gateway Cities have a population that is more diverse than the Commonwealth as a whole, and it is vital that these residents’ voices and political power aren’t split, diluted, or packed,” The letter was signed by Sen. Barry R. Finegold and Reps. Vargas, Linda Dean Campbell. Lenny Mirra, Christina Minicucci, Frank Moran and Marcos Devers.

Conspicuously absent from the letter’s signatories was Sen. Diana DiZoglio. She told WHAV Saturday, “According to my office we were never invited to sign this letter which highlights very real concerns. Had I been invited to sign, I would have. Teamwork makes the dream work.”

The letter also asks Senate leadership to draw new districts using total population data instead of citizen voting age population data. A statement issued by Vargas’ office explained, “Under citizen voting age population data, children, undocumented immigrants and lawful permanent residents are ignored and thus lose the right to proper representation they are entitled to.”

The letter signed by Haverhill leaders points to a unanimous Supreme Court decision in Texas that found states may use total population to draw districts.

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