Langevin, Cicilline at War Over Redistricting

Congressman James Langevin's office is sharply criticizing Congressman David Cicilline tonight after the release of a new redistricting map that would shift large swaths of the conservative Blackstone Valley into Langevin's district and push a sizable section of liberal south Providence into Cicilline's district.

"We're very disappointed in the way that things turned out tonight," said Langevin spokesman Jonathan Dworkin after a state consultant unveiled the new and apparently final map before the state's redistricting commission, composed of state legislators and citizens.

Langevin's office suggested that Cicilline had manipulated the process to produce the map that went before the commission.

Nicole Kayner, a spokeswoman for the Cicilline campaign, said it is accurate that "no consensus" was reached between the Cicilline and Langevin camps on a plan to recommend to the commission. But she said any suggestion that Cicilline had hijacked the process was "incorrect."

The redistricting commission is to vote on recommending the map to the General Assembly on December 19. The Assembly will have the final say, but has historically made only small alterations to the commission's recommendations.

The sweep of the redistricting plan is remarkable, given that the 2010 census found an imbalance of just 7,200 voters between the two Congressmen's districts. As the public process began, most observers expected a rather minimal shift in Congressional lines - all within the city of Providence, which has long been split between the two Congressional districts. Indeed, Cicilline and Langevin penned a joint letter to the state's redistricting commission calling for minimal disruption.

The map presented tonight, though, moves 125,000 voters - nearly 59,000 from Cicilline's district to Langevin's and over 66,000 from Langevin's to Cicilline's.

The plan would move Burrillville, North Smithfield, and Smithfield out of Cicilline's district and into Langevin's district. The move would clearly help Cicilline, who lost those towns in his 2010 tilt with Republican John J. Loughlin II by 624 votes, 995 votes, and 1357 votes, respectively.

The south Providence wards he would pick up - 8,9, 10, and 11 - were solidly liberal in the last election and could prove an even greater boon to his election chances than the Blackstone Valley revisions. Independent Lincoln Chafee, who ran as the most progressive gubernatorial candidate last year, won each of the south Providence wards handily. And his totals, combined with those of Democrat Frank Caprio, swamped those of GOP candidate John Robitaille.

But if the final map made more significant changes than observers expected, the Cicilline camp had apparently been thinking big for some time. 

Representatives for the two Congressmen began discussing redistricting this summer, Langevin's office said, as the Washington-based National Committee for an Effective Congress - a Democratic political consulting firm - pored over voter turnout numbers and came up with a series of new maps. Some were advantageous for the vulnerable Cicilline and some, requested by Langevin's office, made just small changes.

Initial talks focused on a shift of some 45,000 voters, all within Providence. But when the redistricting commission published a first set of maps in recent weeks, the shifts were even more dramatic and went outside the Providence lines. Various proposals would have pushed Cicilline's 2012 Republican rivals - Loughlin and Brendan Doherty - out of the district. One would have jettisoned a potential Democratic opponent, Anthony Gemma.

Loughlin and Doherty objected, of course. But the maps also alarmed the Langevin camp, prompting a public outcry from the Congressman's district director Ken Wild.

Wild went on to draw a map that would slightly shift the line - and only in Providence. But that plan never made it before the commission, where Cicilline presumably had more pull because of his close relationship to Speaker of the House Gordon Fox.

It was clear, then, that something more dramatic was in the offing. By Friday, the two sides were working on a shift of 77,000 voters, Langevin's office said, all within the city of Providence.

Cicilline's camp seemingly wanted more. And when the map landed tonight, Wild's reaction was swift. He suggested that the initial plans were just "decoy maps," raising artificial alarms about moving Cicilline's Republican and Democratic rivals out of the district so the final plan - which puts them all back in - could sail through wth minimal controversy

Wild, though, is clearly not going quietly. And Cicilline's opponents, who are already suggesting that he lied about Providence's finances when he ran for Congress, will surely raise the redistricting plan as Exhibit B in their case for Cicilline as Manipulator.

Will the argument stick? Cicilline's camp seems to be counting on redistricting as so much inside baseball - an intensely political affair that won't attract the attention of the average voter. The scope of the proposed change could push it into the public consciousness, though.

If the plan passes, the immediate impact on Langevin is probably not all that great. He's a popular incumbent with no serious GOP opposition. Indeed, the Democrats' chances to win two Congressional seats, instead of one, probably improve.

The shift would have a long-term impact on Langevin's Second Congressional District, though - making it more suburban, more conservative, and presumably riper for GOP challenge.

That said, Rhode Island could easily lose one of its two Congressional districts in 2020, given its slow population growth. It nearly lost one this time around, according to state redistricting consultant Kimball Brace.

That, of course, means Cicilline and Langevin could find themselves squaring off for Rhode Island's sole House seat in 2022. And after this brouhaha - whatever the outcome - it's easy to imagine a tense fight

Note: this post has been changed from the original version to reflect that NCEC created maps not just at Cicilline's request, but at Langevin's as well

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