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Local leaders fret over shifting districts

By Robert Preer
Globe Correspondent / September 15, 2011

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With Massachusetts congressional districts about to change, political leaders south of Boston are hoping the Legislature’s redistricting committee recognizes their communities’ interests.

“First and foremost, we want Brockton to remain whole,’’ said Brockton Mayor Linda Balzotti. In the 1990s, Brockton was split between two districts. “It’s very difficult to advocate for a city when you are split in half,’’ she added.

Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan said he wants Braintree to remain in what is now the Ninth District, which includes neighboring Randolph and Holbrook and is represented by Democrat Stephen Lynch of South Boston.

“We are very pleased with Congressman Lynch’s advocacy for the town,’’ Sullivan said. “We want to be with towns that share our interests.’’

A special bipartisan committee of the Legislature is redrawing the state’s congressional lines. Massachusetts is losing one of its 10 districts as the result of national population shifts reflected in the 2010 Census.

The committee expects to unveil its proposed map later this month or in early October.

One plan floated recently would shift Lynch’s Ninth District south into Quincy, which is now in the 10th District, represented by freshman Representative William R. Keating, a Quincy Democrat. The Ninth District also could be extended south and west into areas now represented by Fourth District Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat.

State Representative James M. Cantwell, a Marshfield Democrat, said he wants Quincy to remain in a district that includes the rest of the South Shore and Cape Cod.

“Quincy has more in common with the coastal communities,’’ said Cantwell. “Quincy is already involved with other South Shore communities on coastal protection, fishing, and other issues.’’

But Jack E. Robinson, a Duxbury businessman and chairman of the advocacy group Fair Districts Mass, said Quincy should be shifted into a Boston or inner suburban district.

Robinson, whose group wants to see a so-called minority-majority district carved out in Boston, called the notion that Quincy belongs with coastal towns “a bunch of bunk.’’ Said Robinson: “Quincy has less to do with the South Shore and more in common with Boston and Norfolk County.’’

For a district to be created in Boston with a majority nonwhite population, the Ninth District would need to shift to the south, according to Fair Districts Mass.

Through a spokesman, Mayor Thomas P. Koch of Quincy declined to comment on redistricting scenarios.

Fair Districts Mass has released two proposed maps, one of which would put Brockton in a district that includes coastal communities and another that would place the city in a district made up largely of inner suburban communities south and west of Boston.

Balzotti said, “I hope that the districts aren’t put together so that we are put in a district with towns we don’t have anything in common with.’’

Fair Districts Mass has threatened to file a lawsuit in federal court if the redistricting plan the Legislature adopts does not provide for adequate representation of minority interests.

After the special redistricting committee releases its proposed congressional map, the full Legislature will consider it. Final approval is needed by November so that state and local election officials can begin preparations for the 2012 election.

For the three congressmen who represent the south region now, this is a time of uncertainty.

“Obviously, all of us would like to have our districts kept intact,’’ Lynch said. “There’s a lot of speculation now, but until we get a map, all it is is speculation.’’

Like Lynch, Frank said he would like to keep his existing district but understands that change is inevitable.

“I never liked musical chairs as a kid, and I certainly don’t like it now, at my age,’’ he said.

Keating could not be reached for comment. A former state senator and Norfolk district attorney, Keating lived for many years in Sharon, which is not in the 10th Congressional District.

After he decided to run for Congress in 2010, he shifted his voting address to a home he rented in Quincy, which is the largest municipality in the district.

If Quincy were removed from his district, Keating would have the option of shifting his address to Bourne, where he owns a home.

Robert Preer can be reached at