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MALDEN — The yellow two-story house, squeezed snugly into a blue-collar neighborhood, has been the place Edward J. Markey has called home since he was a toddler and the link to his congressional district since he ran for office 37 years ago.
But his critics view the house as the base he left behind when he became a figure in Washington, married a Beltway player, and purchased a grander house, triple the size, on a leafy cul de sac in the exclusive Rolling Hills neighborhood of Chevy Chase, Md.
Markey, even as he has cruised easily to reelection every two years, has never fully shaken questions about his residence, and by extension, his allegiance to the people he represents.
The Democratic House member was fully aware his residency could be an issue when he declared in December that he would run for Senate in the special election to replace John F. Kerry, now the secretary of state. He polled potential voters, in an unreleased internal survey, on whether it mattered to them. And former senator Scott Brown, a Republican, publicly revived the issue by questioning whether Markey lives in Massachusetts.
A Globe review of the residency question has found mixed results.
Markey’s Malden water bills suggest he is there infrequently, paying only the monthly minimum for service. Mortgage documents on his two homes tell an ambiguous tale, with both homes listed at various points as his primary residences. House records show that he and his staff have spent less annually from his official budget on travel over the last four years than any of the state’s other House members, which could suggest he travels back to his district less often.
At the same time, longtime neighbors in Malden, and local politicians, say Markey is part of their community and is active in using his position to push local development and public works projects. The question has never become a big enough problem to prompt a strong electoral opponent, a further indication that it may not be viewed as a major concern to those in his district.
There is no rule or law that dictates how much time a congressman must live in his or her home district. House members typically leave their families in their districts during the week and return when House business concludes Thursday evening. But in recent decades, the pressure on lawmakers to live in their hometowns has increased.
Markey has been able to leave signs of his presence in both places. Around Washington, he and his wife, Susan Blumenthal, a health care consultant and former high-ranking official in the Clinton administration, appeared frequently for a time in the society pages. But Markey also makes it into local newspapers in his congressional district, cutting ribbons and speaking at City Council meetings.
The congressman says he made 34 round trips from Washington to Boston last year, but he declined a Globe request to provide his daily schedules for the last two years. His opponent in the Democratic primary, Representative Stephen F. Lynch, also declined. Lynch keeps a primary home in South Boston, where he is seen frequently and where his wife also lives.
By contrast, Representative Michael E. Capuano’s office supplied a list of dates showing he had spent more than half his nights in his Somerville home over the past two years.
Markey and Representative James P. McGovern of Worcester are the only members of the state’s House delegation to own houses in or around the District of Columbia, with members of their families living there.
“My home is and always will be in Malden,” Markey said in an interview Friday. “We have a house in Maryland because both my wife and I have to work in Washington during the week, but Malden is my home.”
“I am no different than any congressman or senator,’’ he added. “You have to work in Washington during the week. But I think my work in serving the district over the years is clear.”
For generations, members of Congress have been torn between their obligations to craft bills in Washington while remaining part of the communities that elect them.
That tension increased as air travel has become cheaper and anti-Washington sentiment has grown. There are many who argue, however, that the dwindling population of lawmakers spending time together in off hours has contributed to Washington gridlock, because members of the opposing parties no longer know one another’s families and values.
For most of his career in the House, Markey did not own his Malden home, even as he listed it as his residence. One or both of his parents owned it until 2000, when his father died. Although the Markey family home is small and located on a fraction of an acre with no lawn, he said he has a strong sentimental attachment to the property.Continued...