Redistricting gives Athol new senator, House district will include part of Greenfield

  • WHIPPS Rep. Susanna Whipps

  • COMERFORD Sen. Jo Comerford


  • GOBI Sen. Anne Gobi

For Athol Daily News
Published: 10/14/2021 1:52:02 PM
Modified: 10/14/2021 1:52:10 PM

ATHOL – Maps detailing proposed new legislative districts for Massachusetts were unveiled Tuesday at a meeting of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting.

While Athol stays in what is now the 2nd Franklin district, the district will be expanded to include portions of Greenfield and Winchendon. In addition, the new Hampshire, Franklin, and Worcester senate district will be expanded to include several new communities, including Athol and Winchendon. That means those two communities will no longer be represented in the state Senate by Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, but Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

While Athol’s Selectboard and Town Manager Shaun Suhoski both urged the redistricting committee not to combine Athol with Greenfield in any new district, current 2nd Franklin district Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, told the Athol Daily News, “I will happily and vigorously represent any town assigned to the second Franklin district.

“Where community leaders and residents from Greenfield and the North Quabbin region have voiced their opposition to this preliminary map, I will be advocating for a change that keeps Greenfield whole in one representative district and preferably keeps the two regions as anchors in two separate districts.

Considering there is consensus between these communities, their wishes should be honored and respected throughout this process.”

Suhoski said, “I think (the redistricting committee) outlined with pretty good clarity that the population growth in the state is primarily in Eastern Mass., which means Western Mass. districts will either get larger or migrate further eastward.

“This is conjecture, but I’m sure they consider the status of districts with incumbents and seniority. I imagine that’s part of the game plan when they start laying these things out.”

Suhoski then mentioned the letters he and the Selectboard sent to the committee urging that any new area district remain a North Quabbin-based district centered around Athol and Orange.

“We urged that we retain that and that we not have this region’s needs diluted by adding in the city of Greenfield,” he said. “When I saw the map unveiled yesterday, I thought maybe that commentary was heard and we ended up with half of Greenfield, roughly, and a piece of Winchendon merged into the district.

“I guess it’s better than the original thought, where we’d really be trying to balance limited resources between a relatively much larger community to the west with North Quabbin towns.”

Suhoski said has informed each member of the Selectboard of the proposed new district boundaries, adding he may reach out once again to urge that Athol and Greenfield remain in separate House districts.

“I’m not sure the opinion of the town manager in Athol holds a lot of sway on Beacon Hill,” he said. “But I do feel it’s better for this region, which is isolated already between Boston/MetroWest, long that thin stretch of Route 2, betwixt and between Fitchburg/Leominster/Gardner to the east and Greenfield and I-91 to the west.

For those reasons and for the long-documented needs of this area, it’s important to have representation from this area that understands the unique attributes of the North Quabbin region.

“So, I do envision making one more plea.”

As for the loss of Gobi as Athol’s voice in the Upper Chamber, Suhoski described her as “a very hard worker, a diligent advocate for her constituents.

“So, Athol’s loss will be Gardner’s gain, I guess,” he said.

“Sen. Comerford who has been active up here — she represents Orange and Royalston already — fortunately she knows the region. She’s very engaged, and you can see, even as lesser-tenured member of the Legislature, she is a strong advocate, not afraid to be vocal on issues.

“I think on the Senate side — on a personal level, I’ll certainly miss Anne Gobi, she’s but an outstanding legislator. But from everything I’ve seen of Sen. Comerford, I think we’ll still have good advocacy there.”

A virtual public hearing on the new maps will be held Friday, and anyone wishing to comment has until 5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 18 to do so.

Lawmakers are still working on reconfiguration of the state’s nine U.S. House districts.

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