Several hundred people packed the Lynn Veteran's Memorial Autotorium in downtown Lynn last night, for a public hearing on the future of the Sixth Congressional District.
According to 2010 census figures, Massachusetts is set to lose one of its 10 congressional seats, which means districts across the state will have to be redrawn.
Last night, the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting, which is tasked with carving out new district lines, met in the latest public hearing on the matter to listen to the public comment on the matter.
Various speakers spoke in near uniformity about the desire to keep the bulk of the sixth congressional district, which encompasses most of the North Shore, intact.
Salem mayor Kim Driscoll spoke about the interconnected nature of the North Shore, and the strong ties between communities in the sixth district.
"We've been together for close to 150 years. We know we have a symbiotic relationship," Driscoll said. "We have a number of state and local officials focused on regional cooperation. We're all here to show how much we value each other and that we recognize the strength of keeping our sixth district intact."
Each of the newly former nine districts would need to have a population of about 727,514, according to Chris Dwelley, the redistricting director for Sen, Stanley C. Rosenberg of Amherst, the Senate chairman for the redistricting committee. Currently the sixth district has a population of 650,161, Dwelley said. If kept roughly in it's current form, the sixth district would need to add 76,839 people to meet the current standards for redistricting.
Lynn city council president Timothy Phelan said he he feared that if Lynn, which is situated on the Southern tip of the sixth district, were pulled into another district, it would become an afterthought dwarfed by more densely populated cities.
"We are not Boston. I love the city but I don't want to be part of the city in any type of congressional district," Phelan said to much applause. "There is no district that has more national, natural geographic boundaries than the sixth. This has been a major factor involved in keeping our district lately intact since the 1800's. This principle is based upon fact and is not disputable."
Former sixth district Democratic congressman Michael Harrington, who served in the house from 1968 to 1979, recommended that all of Essex county be brought into the sixth district, and cautioned against what he called the recent trend of pulling Western and Central district lines further east.
"I think that there is one fundamental question for the committee to address: Do you continue to allow a West/East approach in dealing with redistricting in terms of bringing the central and western parts of this state further East?" Harrington said. "Or do you recognize the reality of where the growth is?"
Harrington called for the creation of one western seat, on central seat and the remaining 7 seats to be sorted out around the eastern parts of the state where the population is the most dense. Although very cordial, Harrington tangled with Rosenberg when the former congressman called for the redistricting process to be taken out of the hands of the legislature and the responsibility given to an independent commission.
"I would suggest that you look going forward seriously at the benefit and the virtue to take the politics out of this process and look at the Iowa example as far as supporting the concept of an independent commission," Harrington said. "I think this should be part of what this committee puts on the table."
Rosenberg pushed back at the notion, citing figures that show district maps drawn up by independent commissions are far more likely to be challenged and overturned in court than those drawn by legislatures. He said the independent commissions lack accountability.
"There has been some interest across the country, but it's still a very young concept," Rosenberg said of independent commissions. "The reality is so far the legislative committees outperform the redistricting commissions."
Last night's hearing was one of several held around the state in recent months. The next and final public hearing will be held on June 27, at Cape Cod Community College in Barnstable.
Stewart Bishop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org