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Scramble on to fill retiring US Rep. Frank's seat

By Steve Leblanc
Associated Press / November 28, 2011
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BOSTON—U.S. Rep. Barney Frank's decision not to seek re-election is sparking a political scramble as potential successors take a fresh look at his newly redrawn congressional district.

At least two Democratic state senators told the Associated Press on Monday they're considering running for the rare open congressional seat.

Cynthia Creem of Newton and Marc Pacheco of Taunton each said they hope to make a final decision in coming weeks.

Republican Elizabeth Childs of Brookline, a former state mental health commissioner under Mitt Romney, had already announced her intention to run.

Frank has held the seat for more than three decades, but a recent redistricting map dramatically changed the district's lines, which had snaked down from Newton and Brookline south to New Bedford. Frank cited the changes when explaining his decision to retire at the end of his term.

One of the biggest changes was the loss of the Democratic stronghold of New Bedford. Frank had become a vocal supporter of the area's fishermen. Frank said whoever wants to run for the new seat should be prepared to work hard in what is a politically diverse region.

"You've got Brookline, the Blackstone Valley, the southwest metro area," Frank said.

Creem, whose state Senate district comprises Newton and Brookline and parts of Wellesley -- all of which are included in the new congressional district -- said she's weighing the pros and cons of running.

Creem said she enjoys Beacon Hill, but said representing the state in Congress would be both exciting and challenging.

"I am seriously looking at it," she said. "It's an open seat. They don't come around that often."

Pacheco, who launched a failed bid for Congress in 2001, represents many of the communities in the southern part of the congressional seat, including Taunton, Dighton, Raynham and Berkley, and formerly represented other communities in the district, including Lakeville, Seekonk and Rehoboth.

Pacheco said his 2001 run for Congress is a plus.

"It's a different level," he said. "I am that much more prepared having gone through it once."

Another potential Democratic candidate is James Segel, a former state representative from Brookline who served as chairman of Frank's first campaign for Congress in 1980. Segel also served as a special counsel to Frank when he was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

"I'll look at it, I don't know," Segel said when asked if he'd consider a run.

Bristol District Attorney Sam Sutter, who lives in Fall River, a portion of which is included in the new congressional district, appeared to leave open the door for a possible run.

Sutter issued a written statement praising Frank, adding "the last thing I would want to do today is insert myself into this story about Congressman Frank's career."

Childs announced her intention to challenge Frank even before the new congressional district map was approved. She said Frank's decision not to seek re-election won't have much of an effect on how she'll run.

"This was never a race for me about Rep. Frank," she said. "This has always been a race for me about the future of our country. I welcome whoever is running on the Democratic side."

Massachusetts Republican Party Executive Director Nate Little said Frank's decision is a major opening for the GOP.

"Republicans were already gearing up for a strong race and Frank's sudden retirement injects added optimism and excitement into the election," he said.

State Democratic chairman John Walsh said the party will work to keep the state's congressional delegation all Democratic while also ousting Republican Sen. Scott Brown.

He said he expected a spirited Democratic primary for Frank's seat.

"That's how we do it. We have a fight. Democrats choose their nominees by contests," he said. "It's a contest of ideas, a contest of strategies, a contest of resumes."

Walsh also conceded the new district might be slightly more Republican that Frank's current district, but still called it the third or fourth most Democratic-friendly district in the state.

State Rep. Michael Moran, the House chairman of the redistricting panel, acknowledged Frank's district had changed substantially, but said that was unavoidable given that Massachusetts is losing one of its 10 congressional seats.

Moran said that while the panel took into consideration incumbent members of Congress, the top priority was drawing more geographically compact districts.

"It doesn't completely take us by surprise," Moran said of Frank's decision. "He was one of the people we were wondering how long he was going to stay."

Frank's impending retirement is the second blow to the state's seniority in Congress.

Last month, U.S. Rep. John Olver, who represents the western part of the state, announced he would not run again. Olver has held his seat since 1991 and is a member of the House Appropriations panel.

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Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.

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