Study: Minorities underrepresented in New Bedford, Fall River politics

SE Mass

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — The two largest cities in Southeastern Massachusetts still have significantly fewer minority residents in elected office than in their broader populations, according to a new study out Wednesday.

The report by the Massachusetts Institute for the New Commonwealth, a Boston-based think tank, looked across the Bay State and found that “the makeup of elected leaders in Massachusetts does not reflect the full diversity of residents by race, ethnicity, gender, and political affiliation.”

People of color make up 35% of residents in New Bedford but only 20% of the Whaling City’s elected officials, according to MassINC, while in Fall River, they make up 21% of residents but only 5% of elected officials.

Similar gaps were cited in Massachusetts’ other so-called Gateway Cities. “Their elected leadership has been slow to reflect demographic change in those communities,” the study found.

Apart from ethnic and racial diversity, MassINC’s researchers pointed to a host of other facts they argue demonstrate “Massachusetts government is stubbornly unrepresentative.” including the relatively small share of women and Republicans on Beacon Hill, as well as the centralized power of legislative leaders to control the policy process there.

Fall River was cited again in a section of the study highlighting the weakness of state and local political party committees. In the 2018 election, the researchers found, “Fall River Democrats spent just $91, and Republicans made no expenditures in the city.”

The study also sounded the alarm about the rapid decline in local news across the state. “Since 2001, Massachusetts has lost nearly two-thirds of its newspaper staff,” MassINC found, with the number of newspaper employees dropping from over 25,000 to roughly 10,000. It also reported that “about half as many people purchase a print or online daily newspaper today compared to 2004.”

The study proposed four broad strategies to address the findings: hold all state and local elections in even-numbered years, eliminating off-year municipal voting; institute public financing for candidates; add staff and research capabilities to make rank-and-file lawmakers more effective; and come up with new business models for state and local news.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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