While Hill & Harbor remains in Dist. 30; Cole, Hanaford, OLM neighborhoods join Dist. 24
In the House District map recommended by the state commission on redistricting Wednesday night, East Greenwich got what it asked for. Kind of.
The new map – unveiled at the meeting – keeps the Hill and Harbor neighborhoods in Dist. 30, as officials and residents had fought for at an earlier hearing. But the cutting knife moved south a bit, taking instead a swath of East Greenwich from First Avenue over to South Pierce Road and adding it to the Potowomut part of Dist. 24, a formerly all-Warwick district. (Find the map HERE.)
Dist. 30 had represented the whole of East Greenwich in recent years, along with a part of West Greenwich. House districts are made up of approximately 14,000 residents and, as it happens, the most recent census (which triggered the redistricting process) showed East Greenwich with 14,312 residents. But changes in other cities and towns ended up rippling into East Greenwich. Warwick has lost population while East Greenwich has gained. Then, too, the recent decision to count some inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions (located in Cranston) in their home communities meant that Cranston lost population, which affected abutting Warwick districts and on into East Greenwich.
The new House map means that even though Warwick lost population, it will not lose any seats in the House.
“The maps approved by the commission reflect the process that created them,” said Common Cause Director John Marion. “The commission was appointed by the legislative leadership and contained primarily legislators, or former legislations. As a result, of the 113 incumbent state legislators, every single one was kept in their existing district. Other than the requirements for equal population and compliance with the Voting Rights Act, the commission … chose to prioritize incumbent protection. “
In terms of East Greenwich, in particular, Marion said the new map was the result of two realities: “Rhode Island’s geography, with so much coastline, combined with the fact that Warwick is the home of two of the top legislators in the state, put East Greenwich in a difficult position in this process.”
For resident Chris Lamendola – who lives in the portion of EG that is slated to be added to Dist. 24 – the new map is the essence of gerrymandering.
“One has to ask who it benefits?” he said. “Why not leave East Greenwich all in one district? It is sadly comical and our neighborhood will lose representation at the state level with this move.”
Jean Ann Guliano, who also lives in the portion that would become part of Dist. 24, saw political power at play as well.
“That keeps the downtown and harbor area in the district, so it’s less controversial,” she said, referring to an earlier map that put the area below Main Street in Dist. 24. “Still, Warwick is obviously trying to maintain its seats even though they lost population and [it is] using EG to do it. Warwick has power in the General Assembly. EG? Not so much.”
The speaker of the House, Joe Shekarchi, lives in Warwick.
Guliano was more sanguine, however, about East Greenwich having two representatives.
“On one hand, the change still does not respect historical town boundaries. On the other hand, there are advantages to having two representatives for our town. It’s more voices to advocate for the town’s position on issues or to sponsor legislation. It’s certainly been an advantage to have two state senators. It will be a shame to lose Lou.”
She was referring to Coventry Sen. Lou Raptakis, who represents Senate Dist. 33, which had included the westernmost part of East Greenwich, but does not under the Senate map recommended Wednesday. Instead, Senate Dist. 35 (a seat held by Democrat Bridget Valverde) will encompass all of East Greenwich (and parts of North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Narragansett).
All five members of the EG Town Council had testified in December against the plan to split the Hill and Harbor into two districts.
“The statewide committee did hear that,” said Schwager Thursday. “Our hope was that we could preserve East Greenwich under one state representative but the district had to give up some of its population.”
He noted with the decision to allocate ACI inmates differently, ”there was a ripple effect that hit East Greenwich.”
“It’s a difficult process,” said Dist. 30 Rep. Justine Caldwell, a Democrat. “Other options were to drastically redraw districts. Every decision you make ripples through every other district. We had a lot of people and Evan [Shanley’s district] needed people and it all has to balance.”
Evan Shanley, who holds the Dist. 24 seat, lives off Major Potter Road in Cowesett. He said he loves East Greenwich and once lived on King Street. He acknowledges he will have double duty under this new scenario, covering two municipalities instead of one. But, he added, “there is something to be said for having two advocates instead of one.”
The new maps are not a done deal, but if historical precedent is any guide, little if anything substantive will change when the maps are taken up by the General Assembly.
“The General Assembly can make amendments to the map,” said Common Cause’s Marion, “but they typically give deference to the commission’s recommendations.”