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Redistrict plan would split 2 towns

By Natalie Feulner
Globe Correspondent / November 13, 2011

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The dust is still settling after the release of a proposed congressional district map that splits two communities south of Boston between two districts and shuffles around others.

According to the new map, Milton would be split between US Representatives Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston and Michael Capuano of Somerville, both Democrats.

Raynham would be shared by Lynch and US Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat. Randolph would move from Lynch’s district into Capuano’s, but would not be split.

Soon after release of the new map early last week, US Representative William R. Keating, a Quincy Democrat, said he will move to his summer home on Cape Cod, to avoid running against Lynch and to see a new seat representing Cape Cod, the South Coast, and the coastal sections of Plymouth County.

Redistricting is required by law every 10 years after the US Census results are in, to accommodate shifts in population. This year, Massachusetts lost a district but US Representative John Olver, an Amherst Democrat, has announced his retirement.

If reelected next year, Capuano would pick up Milton precincts 1, 5, and 10, which start near the Central Avenue station and include neighborhoods west of Blue Hills Parkway, as part of the new 7th District. The additional area would make it the only district in the state to have a majority of nonwhite residents.

Lynch would retain the other Milton precinct as part of the new 8th District, which also includes parts of Boston to the north, Quincy to the east, Dedham to the west, and Raynham and Bridgewater to the south.

The redistricting plan must be approved before the end of the Massachusetts legislative session Wednesday, and then must be signed by Governor Deval Patrick.

At a Special Town Meeting in Dedham on Monday, Lynch spoke briefly about the redistricting, saying that while he would have more constituents, it would be a good thing overall.

“I’m pleased to know that 80 percent of my district remains the same, although I’ll be going from 640,000 to 727,000 people,’’ he said. “It will be a welcome challenge, but a logistical challenge as well.’’

Most of the map changes follow town lines and only shift representation slightly. In Milton, however, where the town is split in a way that creates a minority-majority, some have concerns.

Milton has become increasingly diverse over the past 20 years, and many community organizations such as churches and the library have worked to encourage dialogue about that change.

Community activist Deborah Felton said she hopes those discussions and Milton’s willingness to embrace diversity will continue despite the redistricting.

“Since the new district is more of a minority district, it raises the question of whether you take that and say it segregates the town even more regarding issues like real estate and school,’’ she said. “Does that say now that this area is designated for minorities?’’

If redistricting causes additional segregation in Milton, she added, that’s a problem because “it’s something people have worked for years to overcome.’’

Patrick, who is Milton’s most prominent resident, will remain in Lynch’s district. Through a spokeswoman, he said that despite the split, the redistricting panel worked hard to keep towns with similar concerns and demographics together.

“Throughout this process, the redistricting committee has shown a commitment to developing their proposals in a transparent and inclusive manner, keeping districts with common interests together, and respecting the voting powers of minorities and people of color,’’ he said in a prepared statement.

Milton Selectman John Hurley, saying he had concerns about his town losing political clout, looked into appeal options with Milton Town Clerk James Mullen, but Mullen said it’s too late to press for any changes.

“Everybody is going to be happy they weren’t touched,’’ Mullen said. “It’s unfortunate for the town of Milton to be split, but they wanted to get the town of Randolph [into the new 7th District] and to do that they had to go through us.’’

Hurley argued that major issues affecting Milton, such as the state Department of Conservation and Recreation’s recent application for a $13.1 million federal grant to complete a bicycle trail along the Neponset River and developing parking on the so-called East Milton deck over the Southeast Expressway, could lose the support of one or both congressmen.

“Here’s the problem: They’ve split our community, so they’ve split our support in Washington and have split our power to a degree,’’ Hurley said. “There are major issues right now that we are dealing with on the national level. We will need the support.’’

However, Milton Town Administrator Kevin Mearn said he hopes the dual representation would reflect that of state representatives and give Milton a stronger voice in Congress.

“We have multiple representatives at the state level who work closely together - I’m sure that both congressional representatives will do the same,’’ he said. “The more people advocating a position for us is a good thing.’’

That sort of support is what the Rev. Parisa Parsa of First Parish in Milton is looking for.

“We would very much welcome [US representatives] to be involved in our race dialogue,’’ she said.

“We’ve had town leaders, and we’re grateful to have participation on as many levels as possible. It would be really effective in making the town a more inclusive place.’’

Natalie Feulner can be reached at natalie.feulner@gmail.com.


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