THE BATTLEFIELD “Plan E” has 125,000 voters switching districts.
There are rivalries within any state's Congressional delegation. The competition for influence and the back-and-forth over who gets credit for what can get snippy.

But the very public conflict that has erupted between Democratic Congressmen James Langevin and David Cicilline over the once-per-decade redistricting process is remarkable for its nastiness.

Langevin's camp has accused Cicilline of moving past the standard political machinations associated with redistricting to something like rigging his own re-election. And Cicilline's supporters have fought back — calling Langevin, in effect, a sore loser.

The political theater is compelling stuff in and of itself.

But the heavyweight fight could also have real consequences for Democratic politics in the state and, in particular, Rhode Island's long-marginalized black and Latino populations.


When the redistricting process formally kicked off in October, most observers expected a rather ho-hum affair.

The 2010 census, after all, had found an imbalance of just 7200 voters between Rhode Island's two Congressional districts — Cicilline's smaller District 1, which runs from the northwest corner of the state, down through the Blackstone Valley and the eastern half of Providence and into the East Bay, and Langevin's slightly larger District 2, which covers southwest Rhode Island and the western half of Providence.

Indeed, on October 20, Congressmen Cicilline and Langevin penned a joint letter to the redistricting commission asking for minimal disruption, with any shifts occurring in Providence alone.

But behind the scenes, it had been clear for months that Cicilline wanted something more dramatic. And for good reason.

He was finishing up an eight-year stint as Providence mayor when he declared, during the Congressional campaign last fall, that the city was in "excellent fiscal condition."

The statement came back to bite him.

Shortly after he took the oath of office in Washington, his City Hall successor Angel Taveras revealed a $180 million structural deficit on the city's books. The press and public felt lied to; Cicilline's approval numbers dropped to Nixonian levels.

He would need every advantage he could get, it seemed, to eke out a re-election in 2012.

The redistricting effort began in earnest this summer when Cicilline's office, working through the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, engaged political consulting firm National Committee for an Effective Congress (NCEC) to pore over election returns and hammer out possible redistricting plans.

One plan, according to emails obtained by the Phoenix, would have shifted 45,000 Providence voters around — moving some 26,000 voters from the liberal, Latino-heavy wards of south Providence out of Langevin's district and into Cicilline's, and pushing 19,000 from the more conservative wards of Wanskuck and Elmhurst out of Cicilline's district and into Langevin's.

The Langevin camp, which preferred a more modest reconfiguration, had NCEC draw up plans to its liking as well.

The differences between the two offices were becoming clear. But they didn't seem unbridgeable. Not yet, anyway.

By the fall, Langevin's office was pushing for the joint letter to the commission, calling for minimal disruption. Cicilline signed on — reluctantly, Langevin's office says.

But the tentative peace between the two representatives fell apart in late-November when the redistricting commission unveiled a set of proposed Congressional maps — Plans A, B, C, and D — that made major changes.

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