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Berkshire County Officials Stress Maintenance of Congressional Lines at Redistricting Hearing

By Patrick Donges


Pittsfield, MA – More than 80,000; that's how many more residents officials say must be added to the state's first congressional district to maintain its current borders. It is already the largest district in the state containing all of Berkshire and Franklin counties and parts of Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, and Worcester counties.

That number was stated Saturday during a hearing in Pittsfield held by the Massachusetts Special Joint Committee on Redistricting, the eighth of 13 hearings being held across the state by the panel of state legislators charged with re-drawing the district lines in advance of the November 2012 elections.

Based on population figures taken from the 2010 census, Massachusetts is slated to lose one of its ten congressional districts in this year's process.

From 2000 to 2010, Berkshire County lost nearly 3 percent of its population, from almost 135,000 residents to just more than 131,200.

State Senator Stanley Rosenberg, senate co-chair of the redistricting committee, broke down the number of residents that would need to be drawn into in the state's three most western congressional districts to maintain their current boundaries.

"On the first congressional district we have to pick up 82,558, the second congressional district is 66,469, and the third is 62,595."

Those figures have stoked strong speculation of consolidation of the state's first and second districts, a move which would force a primary battle between first district Representative John Olver, the eldest member of the delegation, and second district Representative Richard Neal, who has held that seat since 1989.

Olver was the first to speak at Saturday's hearing; his remarks set the stage for most of the testimony that followed.

"The first congressional district encompasses 107 of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. It has a substantially rural character."

"With a multitude of these small towns, they have shared interests which come from their relatively rural nature. I urge you to reject any plan that might come before you that would split Berkshire County in any way whatsoever."

Berkshire Middle District Register of Deeds Andrea Nuciforo, who has announced he will challenge Olver in a Democratic primary next year, agreed that the county should remain whole.

"It's very important that Berkshire County not be split. I think that would be dreadful. All of Berkshire County together are, as a whole, one community of common interest."

Nuciforo also cited maps drawn by FairDistrictsMass.org, a non-profit proposing a consolidation of the first and second districts.

"One of the proponents of this thing said, there is frankly no reason to keep two seats headquartered in Western Massachusetts.' That is incorrect."

"There are many, many billions of dollars that are allocated by the federal government every year that go to small towns and small cities. The small towns and small cities, including my hometown of Pittsfield, deserve and need a congressman that will be speaking exclusively for them."

Nuciforo said he believed the committee could maintain the rural nature of the first district by adding Northampton, Hadley, South Hadley and other communities in Middlesex and Worcester counties.

Jack Robinson, CEO of FairDistrictsMass.org, agrees that the consolidation would be "unfortunate" for Berkshire County residents, however

"It's really unavoidable given the math. The western part of the state has lost population. It's really just an unfortunate consequence that (we) go back to kind of what the maps were in the late 1800's and early 1900's."

As for Nuciforo's suggested changes, again Robinson said they don't add up.

"We looked at that; looking at Northampton, Holyoke, West Springfield, even Longmeadow, some of the larger communities out west. You just can't get enough of them to get to the additional people that you need to create a legal district."

The committee's next hearing is scheduled for June 18 at Framingham State University.