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With Olver retiring, delegation looks warily at redistricting

Following US Representative John Olver’s announcement Wednesday that he will retire at the end of his term, other members of the Massachusetts delegation reacted yesterday with a mix of uncertainty and trepidation about what his departure will mean for the state’s redistricting process.

If Massachusetts legislators redrawing the congressional maps push ahead with a major overhaul of those districts as insiders have predicted, at least two incumbents could be forced to run against each other, while some representatives will have their district lines substantially altered.

“None of my colleagues have a sense of what the committee is doing,’’ said Barney Frank, the veteran Democrat from Newton who for three decades has represented a sprawling district that runs from Brookline and Newton to the southeastern coast. “You go where they send you.’’


By most accounts, Frank is expected to keep the communities around Boston that would dominate a revamped MetroWest-based district, while he would probably lose the southern parts of his district.

As it is forced to cut the number of districts from 10 to nine, because of sluggish population growth in Massachusetts, the state’s redistricting committee seems intent on untangling the often contorted boundaries.

It will also probably create a new seat in an area that does not now have its own district: the South Coast region that includes Democratic strongholds of Fall River and New Bedford, and the politically mixed Cape and Islands.

If that happens, Representative William R. Keating of Quincy would have to decide whether to face off against his colleague, Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston, in a Democratic primary or move to his summer home on Cape Cod and run in the new district.

But Lynch said yesterday he thinks the committee will avoid a showdown between him and Keating, particularly now that Olver’s retirement eases some of the pressure on the redistricting process. He said he believes the committee now has plenty of room to maneuver.


“I don’t see the conflict,’’ Lynch said. “I think there are many ways to resolve this. That is their challenge, and I trust their judgment.’’

For Keating, the decision to move could depend on how many of the Norfolk County communities where he has run well over the years remain in his district.

The junior member of the delegation has demonstrated he is a viable candidate in those areas, moving from the Massachusetts House to the state Senate to the district attorney’s office and finally to Congress.

“That would be a very tough decision for Bill Keating,’’ said former state senator Warrren Tolman, a Boston lawyer and Democratic analyst, noting his strong political and personal ties to the communities south of Boston.

Meanwhile, US Representative James P. McGovern, the Worcester Democrat whose district extends from that city down to Fall River, could see his district move into Western Massachusetts to consume much of Olver’s, while shedding a series of conservative communities southeast of Worcester.

McGovern said he has not heard any definite word but acknowledged yesterday that such a scenario could offer friendly territory for him.

“There are towns to the west that would kind of fit in nicely with my political philosophy, but there are also towns to the east that do, as well,’’ he said.

By gobbling up much of Western Massachusetts, McGovern would face a former Pittsfield state senator in a primary fight.


Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr., the register of deeds in the Berkshire Middle District, said he is not backing down from his intention to run for the seat, despite McGovern’s incumbency and his high seniority in the Democratic congressional leadership.

“I am in,’’ Nuciforo said yesterday. “That is a district that is very attractive for us.’’ He has already accumulated a $150,000 campaign bank account.

The Legislature’s joint redistricting committee has not revealed most of its intentions, but Beacon Hill legislative leaders have given strong hints that they will clean up several contorted districts, particularly those that cut up Southeastern Massachusetts among several incumbents.

The boundaries for those seats have developed over the decades as part of the political haggling that goes into the redistricting process, often to protect incumbents.

In the past, the House and Senate leadership would send their committee chairmen to confer with the delegation. That would include treks to Capitol Hill to find out what US House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. wanted for his district lines. They would return to Beacon Hill with a general idea for a new map.

State Senate redistricting chairman Stanley C. Rosenberg of Amherst and his counterpart in the House, state Representative Michael Moran of Brighton, said only that they have created a number of scenarios, but that no decisions have been made.

They are expected to release their plans early next week.

McGovern, like others interviewed, said much of what he knows so far has come from news reports.


“I’ve been all over the place,’’ he said, “so I’m just trying to keep my powder dry here until I see a real map.’’

Frank Phillips can be reached at Noah Bierman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.