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THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Mass. redistricting plans pit east vs. west

By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / October 10, 2011

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As the state moves closer to enacting a redistricting plan that eliminates one of its 10 congressional seats, the two most likely scenarios pit the eastern part of the state against the western.

One option would merge the seats of South Boston’s Stephen F. Lynch and freshman William R. Keating of Quincy to create a new district encompassing most of the South Shore through Cape Cod. A second option would eliminate one of two Western Massachusetts districts, protecting the Boston-area delegation but inflaming a longstanding resentment in the western part of the state by eclipsing the seat now held by US Representative John W. Olver.

Caught in the crunch is Senator Stanley C. Rosenberg, the Senate cochairman of the Legislature’s redistricting committee.

As a member of the Senate leadership, Rosenberg is part of the Beacon Hill establishment that largely draws from the Boston area. But he also has close personal and financial ties to Olver and is a potential heir to his congressional seat.

Their relationship has a long history. Rosenberg was on Olver’s staff in the state Senate and now holds Olver’s old seat at the State House.

The two also co-own a $396,300 Beacon Hill condominium at 33 Myrtle Street. They have owned the condo since 1987, when Olver was in the state Senate and Rosenberg was elected to the House. Rosenberg currently uses the flat, and Olver sublets his portion of it.

Rosenberg heatedly rejects that his close ties to the Amherst Democrat pose a conflict of interest as he heads up the redistricting task. Nor, he says, does it offer any reason to recuse himself.

“It’s absurd,’’ said Rosenberg. “How does co-owning a flat become a conflict of interest?’’

Rosenberg, who turns 62 next month and was recently diagnosed with cancer, has not ruled out a future campaign for Congress when Olver, 75, retires, although those close to Rosenberg say he is not likely to run.

“No politician worth his salt closes his options,’’ Rosenberg said in a recent interview. “I keep my options open.’’

Rosenberg disclosed his co-ownership of the condo on his financial statements to the state Ethics Commission, and both men’s names appear on the tax records and on the deed.

Olver declined to speak with the Globe about the issues raised in this story.

With the redistricting process moving into its final weeks, Rosenberg must juggle those competing interests and the perception that he might be trying to push one scenario.

“Stan is feeling very, very pressured from the political world,’’ said a close friend who has consulted with him.

If he bows to the pressures from the Boston establishment - which believes that the declining population in the western part of the state means the area no longer needs two congressional seats - Rosenberg will face hostility from his constituents.

“This is an east versus west issue,’’ said former state Senate Republican leader Brian Lees of East Longmeadow, now the clerk of Superior Court in Hampden County. He noted that five of the state’s congressman live just minutes from downtown Boston.

“There’s been a longstanding feeling in Boston that the state ends in Worcester,’’ said Lees. “I saw that when I was in the Legislature, and the people out here feel strongly about it.’’

Olver, who is the ranking member of the House Appropriation Committee’s transportation subcommittee, and Richard E. Neal, a Springfield Democrat, hold the two Western Massachusetts seats that spread from the New York border to the outskirts of Interstate 495.

Democratic and legislative leaders declined to talk on the record about the potential elimination of Olver’s seat because of the political sensitivity surrounding the process.

But senior House legislative sources said some Democratic leaders are pushing the merger of Neal and Olver’s districts, with the idea that Olver, whose wife is battling cancer, will step aside.

Olver has repeatedly said he plans to run for reelection and has continued to raise money. But suspicion has emerged that he will wait until after the map is drawn with his district still intact and then announce his retirement, thus assuring his region of two seats.

The state is forced to eliminate one of its 10 districts because of national population shifts. Rosenberg and his House counterpart, Michael J. Moran of Brighton, say they are not ready to publicly unveil any proposal. But with the Legislature due to recess in mid-November, that plan will have to be released within the next several weeks.

If Olver’s seat is preserved at the expense of a Boston seat, his district as well as Neal’s will move east. Olver’s district, which now encompasses the entire western-most part of the state and stops in northern Middlesex County, would push further into the outskirts of Lowell. Neal’s district, which spans from Springfield along the Connecticut border through the Blackstone Valley, would probably move into Norfolk County communities.

The district held since 1996 by James P. McGovern, the Worcester Democrat, will also have to move east, further crunching others around Boston.

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.