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Fairfield Rally Fights to Preserve the Fourth

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Demonstrators from Fairfield County formed a human chain across a bridge connecting Fairfield to Bridgeport on Saturday in a symbolic protest against a GOP proposal to move the city out of the 4th Congressional District.

Protesters carried signs bearing slogans such as "If We Divide We Will Be Conquered," "Don't foul up the 4th," "Stop Gerrymandering. Stop Undistricting" and “Make Bridgeport Votes Count.”

The redistricting plan is part of the once-a-decade update of voting districts. State Republicans want to move Bridgeport out of the 4th Congressional District, which covers southern Fairfield County, and into the 3rd District with New Haven.

The district is represented by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Greenwich, who won election in 2008 and 2010 with overwhelming voter support in heavily Democratic Bridgeport, the state's largest city, and in Stamford, another Democratic stronghold. Both parties agree the change would greatly hurt Himes’ chances for re-election next November.

The protesters, led by Norwalk couple Kate Tepper, chairwoman of the Fairfield County chapter of Democracy for America, and her husband, Scott Kimmich, the grassroots group’s spokesman, said they organized the rally to send a “strong and clear message” to lawmakers that voters oppose the plan.

“We’re out here today in the freezing cold unified in the fight to keep Bridgeport in same district with the rest of Fairfield County, where it has always been,” said Tepper, carrying a placard stating: “Say No to Dividing the 4th District.”

As the protesters marched over the Ash Creek bridge holding up their signs, numerous cars honked in a show of support.

John Hartwell of Westport, a Democracy for America group coordinator in Fairfield County, said moving Bridgeport to the same district as New Haven is a "purely partisan plan” that would guarantee Republican domination throughout Fairfield County.

"Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport have been one entity in Congressional representation for well over 100 years," said Hartwell. "Bridgeport is an integral part of Fairfield County and separating it on the Congressional map would create a terrible imbalance.”

Hartwell also refuted the GOP’s claim that the 4th District has been under Democratic dominance. “Before Jim Himes, Republicans controlled the district for 20 years with former Congressmen Stewart McKinney and Chris Shays.”

The rally included protesters from Bridgeport and New Haven as well as Move.On organizers from across Fairfield and New Haven counties.

“Bridgeport is the biggest city in Connecticut. The Republicans want to control it, and all the largest cities across the country where they are trying to capture Congressional seats,” said Tiffany Mellers, a Fairfield County Move.On organizer from Bridgeport.

“If they [Republicans] succeed it would hurt minority representation in a city where minorities are the majority,” said Mellers, who is African American.

The proposal is advanced by House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, co-chairman of the legislature’s Redistricting Commission, and state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, also a member of the panel, who insist the plan would increase minority representation throughout the five Congressional districts.

Democrat Mary-Jane Foster, who made an unsuccessful primary challenge to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch this summer, said she took part in the protest because she doesn’t want to see the plan decided by the courts – which would happen if the legislature’s Redistricting Commission can’t reach an agreement on the plan by Dec. 21.

The state Supreme Court granted the commission’s request for a three-week extension when members were deadlocked on the plan by its Dec. 1 deadline.

“This would only increase the perception that Bridgeport is separate from the rest of the county," she said. "That would hurt both the city and the rest of Fairfield County.”

Elsa Obuchowski of Norwalk said she’s angry because when she attended the Redistricting Commission public hearings over the summer, even Republicans said moving Bridgeport out of the district wouldn’t happen.

"Instead they do this at the last minute, with their deliberations in secret,” Obuchowski said. “They’re trying to ram this through before people have a chance to even know what hit them.”

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