Boston's Last Congressman?

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 resident in its borders.

            The city is currently split between two 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, he gets tossed into a district with Bill Keating, and either loses or decides to run for Senate.

A lineage that runs through Josiah Quincy III, Edward Everett, Henry Cabot Lodge, John McCormack, John F. Kennedy, and Tip O’Neill could end – at least temporarily – with Lynch.

In the past couple of months, insider chatter has increasingly centered on a Lynch-Keating scenario. That rumor got a public boost when WCVB’s Janet Wu got Special Joint Committee on Redistricting co-chair Stanley Rosenberg to concede the possibility.

            “The malls are winning,” one Boston official gripes, only half in jest. “This all goes back to the invention of the damn automobile.”

            In fact, this latest development owes as much to insider politics than population shifts – appropriately, perhaps, in the state that spawned the term gerrymander.

            The trouble starts in the western part of the state, where Richard Neal (Springfield) and Jon 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 Worcester.

            Those “western” districts already reach to Pepperell and Bellingham – and would have to go even further east as two of nine districts, instead of ten.

            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 Rosenberg.

            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. Rosenberg has refused to publicly rule out running for that seat if Olver retires. Close followers of the redistricting process say there is no chance Rosenberg will allow a map eliminating an Amherst-based district to come out of the committee.

            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, who observers say will absolutely not allow that to happen to her friend – and the state’s only woman in Washington.

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, eliminating one of them. That would be true even if Rosenberg’s house counterpart on the redistricting committee – Brighton’s Michael Moran – didn’t live in Capuano’s district.

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, although it will almost certainly retain – through any contortions necessary – Frank’s hometown of Newton and his beloved New Bedford, the two of which provided over 90 percent of his 24,000-vote victory last year.

That leaves Keating, the lowly freshman, and Lynch. And some say that the long memories of Beacon Hill politicians include plenty of individual grudges against Lynch -- some dating back to his days in the state legislature.

Destiny appears to be setting Keating and Lynch on a collision course. And that means that portions of Boston may soon have a US Representative who calls Cape Cod home, while the rest of the city retains Capuano of Somerville. It may make no sense, but sense is not the driving force.

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