Shutesbury, Pelham Democrats oppose redistricting plan

  • The Special Joint Committee on Redistricting’s proposed map for the House of Representatives’ districts. The 7th Hampden District towns are shown in purple. Screenshot

Staff Writer
Published: 10/18/2021 3:10:02 PM

Shutesbury and Pelham residents active in local and statewide politics are criticizing a proposed legislative district under which they would be joined with Ludlow, Belchertown and Petersham.

Over the weekend, both the Pelham Democratic Town Committee and the Shutesbury Democratic Town Committee drafted letters to the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting by the 5 p.m. Monday deadline.

Michael DeChiara, secretary for the Shutesbury committee, said the letter opposes the move of Shutesbury from the 1st Franklin District, where it is one of 19 communities represented by Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, to the 7th Hampden District, whose representative is Jacob Oliveira, D-Ludlow.

“Rural communities are historically overwhelmed by larger urban and suburban communities resulting in our needs being overlooked and our voice minimalized,” the letter reads.

The letter cites Shutesbury’s 1,717 residents as making the town a good fit for a district with similar towns of about 2,000 people, unlike being in one with Belchertown, with a population of 15,350, and Ludlow, with 21,002 residents.

“Shutesbury has different needs than those two larger suburban communities,” the communication states. “Simply put, if Shutesbury is put into the proposed 7th Hampden, our voice will be dramatically limited and our voters’ ability to elect someone who reflects their communities will be undermined.”

The letter has been disseminated via social media in hopes of getting more signers.

In an earlier interview, Blais, who has advocated for rural communities, expressed sadness at the towns, like Shutesbury, she would lose from her district. Under the redistricting plan, the 1st Franklin District would include Monroe, Rowe, Charlemont, Hawley, Heath, Buckland, Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Colrain, Leyden, Deerfield, Whately, Sunderland, Leverett, Montague and a portion of Greenfield.

Residents of Pelham, meanwhile, are crafting a similar appeal, said Pelham Democratic Committee member Judy Eiseman. Pelham is part of the 3rd Hampshire District, represented by Mindy Domb, D-Amherst. Eiseman said her concern is that the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting didn’t appreciate that the two towns share school districts and a ZIP code, and Pelham is the home of two reservoirs that serve the Amherst drinking water supply.

“It’s not a good idea to split the towns,” Eiseman said, observing that Pelham has been part of the same legislative district as Amherst for decades. “It’s clear to me that they didn’t understand the connections between the towns,”

Eiseman said while Oliveira could be a good representative, the district, which also includes Wendell and New Salem, is too disparate in its needs.

“It’s clear that he would have a tough time pulling us together,” Eiseman said.

Townspeople would also lament losing Domb.

“Mindy has been just wonderful,” Eiseman said. “She understands the connections and relevance of things that happen in these two towns.”

The proposed redistricting map can be viewed at malegislature.gov/Redistricting.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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