Boston's last congressman?

Musical chairs dept.
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 31, 2011

capuano
MICHAEL CAPUANO is one of many local pols who could be affected by upcoming redistricting.

Boston may be the epicenter of Massachusetts politics, but the effects of suburbanization are undeniable. At the moment, neither the Senate president nor the Speaker of the House lives in the city. And in two years, the unthinkable could become reality: Boston might not have a single congressman residing in its borders.

The city is currently split between two congressional districts. With one held by Somerville's Michael Capuano, South Boston's Steve Lynch is the only Bostonian in the US House of Representatives. And that last domino could fall if — in the redistricting based on the 2010 Census currently being hammered out on Beacon Hill — Lynch gets tossed into a district with Bill Keating, and either loses or decides to run for Senate.

This latest development owes as much to insider politics as to population shifts — appropriately, perhaps, in the state that spawned the term "gerrymander."

The trouble starts in western Massachusetts, where Richard Neal (Springfield) and John Olver (Amherst) live a stone's throw from each other in the least-populated part of the state. To accommodate both requires a north/south split extending two-thirds of the way across the state, wrapping around Jim McGovern's hometown of Worcester.

Any rational scheme would create a single western district. But the state cannot lose Neal, who is the likely future chair of the Ways & Means Committee. And Olver's district is untouchable, thanks to State Senator Stanley Rosenberg, co-chair of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting.

Rosenberg, also of Amherst and a former aide to Olver, is said to have long desired to succeed his former boss in Washington, just as he did in the State Senate.

McGovern, who is in line to chair the powerful Rules Committee, is also sacrosanct — although his district will need to eat into communities now represented by Ed Markey and Barney Frank.

John Tierney, who survived his 2010 election despite a family scandal, had been considered the likely head on the chopping block — but word has it that he's saved by circumstance.

The problem is that Tierney's Republican-leaning North Shore districts would need to go to either Niki Tsongas or Ed Markey. Tsongas would face serious re-election peril if it's her — especially since powerhouse Republicans like Kerry Healey, Richard Tisei, and Charlie Baker live in those North Shore towns.

As a junior member of the delegation, Tsongas would ordinarily get thrown to those wolves. But she has a veto-wielding ally in Senate President Therese Murray.

And as if Markey, as dean of the delegation, didn't already have the juice to defend his district, observers say one of his constituents has his back: House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

There is also no chance that Markey and Mike Capuano — practically neighbors in Malden and Somerville, respectively — will get thrown together. That means Somerville has to stay attached to Cambridge and Boston, which in turns means it has to remain the "majority-minority" district, which in turn makes it difficult to throw Lynch's Southie into that mix.

Nor will the committee throw either Markey or Capuano in with Frank, although his district is destined to be substantially redrawn. It may even lose Brookline.

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