Delegation begins playing a game of survival

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By Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / December 22, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The posturing began within hours of the announcement that Massachusetts will lose a seat in the US House. Members of the close-knit delegation from the Bay State raced to stake out positions to save their jobs. One said his district cannot be carved up because that would be unfair to minorities. Another defended his turf by noting his district has stood since the Civil War.

None revealed plans to leave voluntarily, through retirement or a run for higher office. So the announcement yesterday was a prelude to an extended game of “Survivor.’’ If none depart of their own accord, two current members may be forced to compete for the same turf in 2012, with the loser getting thrown off the all-Democrat island.

“It’s a disappointment,’’ said Representative Niki Tsongas of Lowell. “We all held out hope that this would not be the case.’’

The requirement that the state draw up new legislative districts stems from the 2010 US Census count, released yesterday, which shows that population growth in Massachusetts lagged behind other states during the past decade. That necessitates the national reapportionment of congressional seats.

The Massachusetts Legislature and Governor Deval Patrick will have to divide the state into nine districts of equal population instead of 10. They must finish in time for the 2012 elections.

“It’s an awkward situation,’’ said David Wasserman, an analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “Redistricting is a process that brings out the worst in everyone.’’

Several members of the Massachusetts delegation yesterday would not say whether they intend to run for reelection to their seats.

Among them was Representative Barney Frank of Newton, who declined to be interviewed through a spokesman. When approached for comment outside the House chamber, Frank responded, “Nine is less than 10.’’ Then, when asked whether he will retire, he replied, “I won’t discuss elections for another several weeks.’’

In the western part of the state, which is currently divided into two districts, Representative John Olver of Amherst has already announced his intention to seek reelection, while Representative Richard Neal of Springfield extolled the virtues of having two seats in Western Massachusetts.

“From a historical perspective, the region has been represented effectively by two members of Congress for years,’’ Neal spokesman William Tranghese said.

“This long-anticipated announcement does not change my plans for 2012,’’ Olver said. “As I stated earlier this month, I do intend to run for reelection in 2012. That is my plan, and I am preparing for that.’’

Tsongas said her district should be preserved, as it has been for nearly 50 years, because the Merrimack and Concord river valleys that she represents have similar needs.

“I believe these river valleys and the communities that lie along them including the birthplaces of the American and industrial revolutions should continue to serve as the geographic and economic linchpins of the district with Lowell at its center,’’ she said.

Tsongas has not given up hope that someone will bow out and vacate a seat, averting the need for an electoral faceoff between members.

“A year or two is a long way out, so things can change,’’ she said.

Representative John Tierney of Salem, whose district is adjacent to that of Tsongas and encompasses the northeast section of the state, said his district should not be eliminated or shrunk because communities there are thriving.

“Since the Civil War, the Sixth Congressional District has been an Essex County seat and the cities and towns comprising the district have remained relatively consistent,’’ Tierney said. “Our families have worked together to strengthen our schools and main streets, our population has grown, and we have supported our neighbors and small business owners.’’

Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville said his district encompasses areas with a lot of minority residents and splitting it up would weaken their political clout.

“It would be, in my opinion, virtually impossible to successfully change this district significantly,’’ he said.

Capuano, whose name has surfaced as a potential candidate to unseat Senator Scott Brown in 2012, would not say if he was contemplating such a run in light of the census results.

“I will consider it when the time comes,’’ he said.

Representative Stephen Lynch of South Boston, who also has been mentioned as a possible challenger to Brown, ruled that out yesterday. “Like most of my colleagues in the Massachusetts delegation, my intention is to seek reelection to the House of Representatives,’’ Lynch said.

Representative Edward Markey of Malden, another possible candidate for Brown’s seat and the longest-serving member of the Massachusetts delegation, said he did not plan to announce his intentions for 2012 yet. In the meantime, he said there will be much to do.

“We will have a lot of time to ensure that when the election in 2012 is conducted that we have made the best decisions possible, working with the state Legislature and the governor,’’ he said. “It’s still very early in the process.’’

All will have an opportunity to make their cases to state lawmakers before the districts are redrawn.

Representative James McGovern of Worcester said he and the other delegation members will be watching closely.

“I love the people I represent, I love the district I have,’’ McGovern said. “But ultimately my fate is in the hands of the state Legislature.’’

Donovan Slack can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @DonovanSlack.