Few legislators concerned by redistricting
Representative David Bennett would like to get more of Apponaug rather than have his district extend into Cranston. Senator Michael McCaffrey would just as soon keep Conimicut if it can be worked out. And Senator Erin Lynch hasn’t let the work of the state Redistricting Commission trouble her yet, as she figures it’s early in the process of realigning district boundaries to get anxious.
In fact, few from Warwick displayed any anxiety over the work of the Redistricting Commission as it met Tuesday night at City Hall.
The same can’t be said for those from East Greenwich. The town of 13,000, which currently has two state senators who also represent portions of adjoining municipalities, would end up with three and even four senators under the plans being offered by Kimball Brace, the consultant retained to develop redistricting plans for the state’s two Congressional, 50 State Representative and 38 State Senate seats to account for the 2010 Census.
On the Congressional level, the Second District represented by Jim Langevin has about 7,200 more people than the First District that covers a portion of Providence and East Bay, and is represented by David Cicilline. Under a Supreme Court ruling, deviation between congressional districts within a state can be no more than one person, Brace said.
There is greater leeway with state districts where populations can’t vary more than 5 percent between districts. However, because of the greater number of districts and shifts in population, the issues focus on combining disparate neighborhoods and placing incumbents from two districts in the same new district.
McCaffrey, who co-chairs the commission, said none of the plans on the drawing boards would place Warwick senators or representatives in the same district as another incumbent.
Yet, because of the loss of 2,526 residents since the 2000 Census, and much of that coming from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) purchase of homes around Green Airport, existing districts will need to be altered. And, in some cases, this will mean the further extension of districts to include neighborhoods outside Warwick.
East Greenwich is one of those towns that would be nibbled at from every corner, and that didn’t have either a bi-partisan delegation from the Town Council or the West Bay League of Women Voters happy.
Marie Hennedy, president of the league, urged the commission to have the town represented by no more than two senators.
Town Council President Michael Isaacs, speaking on behalf of his colleagues, said the proposed Senate District plans offer “the potential disenfranchisement not of a racial or ethnic group, but an entire community.” He said none of the plans combine the town with similar communities with shared interests.
“The effect of this redistricting plan is to deprive East Greenwich residents of a reasonable opportunity to elect a senator who will represent our particular interests and concerns in the Senate.”
The argument is akin to how freshman Rep. Bennett feels. He currently lives on the line that separates his District 20 from that of District 23, represented by Robert Flaherty. Bennett grew up in Apponaug and he would like to see his district encompass Arnold’s Neck, now part of the 24th District represented by Joseph Trillo, rather than an elongated tongue reaching into Cranston as one plan would do.
“What I’m asking for,” he said prior to the start of the hearing, “is to bring me back to Apponaug.”
Jeremy Rix, who accompanied Bennett to the podium, favored the plan that keeps as many districts within one municipality as possible.
Because one alternate plan for the House had not been produced in time for Tuesday’s meeting and other plans had not been finalized by earlier meetings, the commission has extended its schedule. The commission will meet Monday and Thursday at the State House. Both meetings start at 7 p.m. Brace said the final meeting when plans will be selected is set for Dec. 19.
Coming on the heels of the state district plans and Congressional Districts, a committee of the City Council will work to redraw the city’s nine wards so each has about 9,000 residents.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson believes her ward that encompasses the airport has lost the most population and will need to be extended into neighboring wards so as to achieve balance. A resolution on the Monday night council docket calls for the selection of three council members to serve on the redistricting committee.
Council President Bruce Place said yesterday that he would be looking for the committee to “fairly and evenly” come up with a plan. In addition to homes bought by the airport, he noted that foreclosures have had more of an impact on some neighborhoods.
Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon, who also attended the hearing, said he doesn’t see much change happening in the city from either the state redistricting or realignment of wards.
“Redistricting is a compromise experience,” Brace said after the hearing. “Not everyone gets everything they want.”
At earlier hearings, C. Kenneth Wild, manager of Congressman Jim Langevin’s state office, took issue with plans that would have drastically altered the district when the balancing of population between districts could be adjusted with a few simple alterations. Wild was silent Tuesday and after the hearing said “we’re working out the kinks; we’ll figure it out.”
But Wild, as Brace concurs, says two equal districts can’t be achieved without splitting Providence or some other city.
Asked last week what he thought should be done, Langevin said, “I think the basic lines should stay intact and the fewest people as possible should be disrupted.” Langevin said he would hope the final plan would respect the natural and neighborhood boundaries.
Brace said he would be meeting with representatives from Langevin’s and Cicilline’s offices this week. He explained that the process of redistricting has to start at one location and move out from there. The options being suggested reflect that process with the carving up of Senate districts, for example, starting at Westerly, Providence and Newport and rotating around the bay from each city.
“It’s a variation on a theme to give people an idea,” he said.