FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — Former Congressman Joe Kennedy III is joining the chorus of criticism over Beacon Hill leaders’ decision to split off Fall River from New Bedford at the federal level in their proposed redistricting maps.

“Put Fall River and New Bedford together. Period,” Kennedy told 12 News in a statement Wednesday.

Until this year, the 41-year-old Democrat represented one of the two districts being redrawn, the 4th Congressional District. And his statement puts him at odds with his successor, fellow Democrat Jake Auchincloss, who has courted Fall River assiduously and supports splitting up the South Coast to keep the city in his district.

For the last decade, about half of Fall River voters have been in the 4th District, represented first by Kennedy and now Auchincloss, both of whom live in Newton. The other half of Fall River voters have been in the 9th District, represented by Democrat Bill Keating, who lives in Bourne.

The current 4th District snakes from northern Fall River through Taunton and the Attleboros up to the wealthy Boston suburbs, while the 9th District stretches from southern Fall River through New Bedford out to the South Shore, Cape and Islands.

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A map shows current congressional districts in Southeastern Massachusetts. (graphic: Lisa Mandarini/WPRI 12)

For months, New Bedford leaders and progressive activists have pushed Beacon Hill to unite Fall River in one district alongside New Bedford, arguing it would benefit Southeastern Massachusetts.

When the new maps were released Monday, Fall River was indeed unified in one district — but it was Auchincloss’s 4th District, while New Bedford remained in Keating’s 9th District. Auchincloss immediately praised the plan, but it was assailed by Keating — and Kennedy indicated Monday he agrees with Keating.

“Redistricting gives Massachusetts a once-in-a-decade chance to address the profound disparities in political representation and power that mark our state,” said Kennedy, who founded a new advocacy group, the Groundwork Project, after he was defeated in last year’s U.S. Senate primary.

“As someone who had the honor of representing Fall River for eight years in Congress, I saw firsthand how often the South Coast has to fight twice as hard for half as much,” Kennedy said. “And I know that is an injustice echoed in Gateway Cities all across our ‘progressive’ state.”

“Unifying New Bedford and Fall River into one congressional district will create an essential power center for all of the South Coast’s families, particularly the working-class and immigrant communities that anchor the region,” he continued. “And we will all be better served by a political map that brings more diversity and more lived experience to our highest halls of power — not less.”

Auchincloss has argued the state will benefit by having him represent a variety of different types of communities in the 4th District, rejecting arguments that Newton and Fall River have little in common.

“Representing a district like ours – rich in economic, geographic, and ideological diversity – gives me a valuable perspective in Washington,” Auchincloss said Monday. “The new map preserves that vital diversity.”

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The newly proposed congressional maps for Massachusetts. (credit: Mass. Legislature)

It remains unclear how likely lawmakers are to change the proposed congressional maps further, though they are currently accepting public comment on the draft ahead of a Nov. 9 hearing.

State Rep. Mike Moran, a leader of the redistricting panel, argued at a hearing over the summer that uniting the South Coast could have a domino effect that would dilute the voting power of communities of color in the 7th District, represented by Democrat Ayanna Pressley.

Yet Moran’s view is far from universal. The advocacy group Drawing Democracy has released a proposed map it says would unite Fall River and New Bedford without significantly disrupting the 7th District.

There is notable local opposition in the state Senate, with veteran Democrats Mark Montigny and Michael Rodrigues among those speaking out against the plan to split the South Coast.

“It is my grave fear that splitting these two communities of shared interest is a hugely missed opportunity to unite the voices of the working-class people in these cities,” Rodrigues said in a statement Tuesday. “For the sake of the region, Fall River should move into the 9th District and be united with New Bedford.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook