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[talking politics]

Southie versus the suburbs
For all the fuss made about South Boston in the Ninth Congressional District, the neighborhood is losing its clout. The heart of the district now lies in West Roxbury


THIS PAST SATURDAY, less than one week after Max Kennedy dropped out of the race for the Ninth Congressional District, two of the leading candidates to replace Congressman Joe Moakley, who died of leukemia on Memorial Day, converged on Hynes Field in West Roxbury. State Senators Stephen Lynch of South Boston and Brian Joyce of Milton joined parents and players of the Parkway Soccer League for their annual year-end cookout. Lynch arrived before Joyce and was introduced by neighborhood leader and West Roxbury state representative David Donnelly as “the Parkway candidate.” He comfortably schmoozed the crowd; Joyce showed up after Lynch had departed and tried to do the same. But no one introduced him, and he committed a crucial misstep by letting his aides collect signatures from political supporters (or at least try to) at Hynes Field. A definite no-no in West Roxbury politics.

The scene exemplified the unfolding dynamic in the race for the Ninth Congressional District. Since Kennedy dropped out, three serious candidates have emerged: Lynch, Joyce, and Senator Marc Pacheco of Taunton. With Pacheco not yet capturing the imagination of the press, the race is shaping up as a Joyce-Lynch battle; Lynch is seen as the much more polished and appealing pol, while Joyce is known for ruffling feathers. (Joyce alienated many in the Moakley camp when he began making fundraising calls right after Moakley announced he had been diagnosed with terminal leukemia.)

More significantly, however, the two candidates — and their same-day stumping in West Roxbury — symbolize the city-versus-suburbs split that characterizes the district. In recent years, Moakley had begun to realize that the heart of the Ninth had shifted from his beloved South Boston to West Roxbury, a suburban-style community within the confines of Boston, but closer to the Dedham Community Theater than to Southie. His successor, Moakley believed, would most likely come from this western part of the Ninth.

A Joyce-Lynch match-up will put Moakley’s observation to the test: Joyce is a veteran of suburban politics who represents the towns of Milton, Canton, and Randolph, as well as portions of Boston including Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Dorchester. Lynch is a son of South Boston, though his district also includes the South End and the eastern part of Dorchester.

Privately some of Joyce’s supporters are already making the case that, while their candidate represents both parts of Boston and the suburbs, Lynch essentially represents just South Boston. They also believe that Joyce’s more progressive standing on social issues — particularly gay rights — will bring out voters in parts of Jamaica Plain and the South End, eating into Lynch’s district.

Joyce does insist that the entire district would gain his attention if he won: “The people of South Boston would be a very important part of my constituency if elected, but no more or no less than the people of West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Needham, Mattapan, or anywhere else.” And he rejects the notion that he’s a purely suburban politician. Since becoming a senator in 1997, Joyce notes, he’s helped community activists mitigate the Arborway Yard bus project and slowed development of Hellenic Hill near Jamaica Pond.

Lynch, for his part, takes issue with the notion that the race rests on a city-suburb battle. “I think my opponent is trying to make this a narrow-minded, parochial fight,” he says. “I’d remind him that we’re not running for the city council here. We’re running for the Congress of the United States of America.” He argues that the congressional race will hinge on issues such as prescription-drug coverage for seniors, national energy policy, Medicare, and funding for public education: “It belittles the office of representative in Congress to run like this is a precinct or ward.”

Nevertheless, Joyce’s spin was evident in a June 10 Boston Globe South Weekly story (“Suburbs Poised To Seize Boston Congressional Seat”) that discussed a vote analysis conducted by Joyce’s consultant, Viewpoint Strategies in Newton. The study, obtained by the Phoenix, showed that in the six congressional elections between 1990 and 2000, 42 percent of the votes for the district’s general election came from Boston, while 58 percent came from Norfolk, Plymouth, and Bristol Counties. It also contained some interesting findings on voting patterns in South Boston as compared with the rest of the district. Lynch’s district contributed, on average, just 13 percent of the total votes for the overall congressional district. Joyce’s Senate district, by contrast, accounted for 24.5 percent of the votes. (State Senator Marian Walsh’s district — West Roxbury — contributed 28 percent of the votes.) Putting averages aside, Lynch’s district contributed 22.8 percent of the total votes for the congressional district in the year of Southie’s highest turnout — the 1996 state primary.

Of course, other candidates are still considering getting into the race, which could upset the clear-cut city-versus-suburbs dynamic. The latest to surface, Marc Draisen, a former state representative from Roslindale who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1994, is pondering a campaign from the political left. But Draisen, who built a portfolio around affordable housing while at the Massachusetts Community Development Corporation, would start his campaign woefully underfunded, and with little name recognition and no natural base. Former state senator Joe Timilty — also pro-choice and pro-gay-rights — is also still considering a run. Less well-known candidates, such as Eleanor Mulloney LeCain, a strategic planning consultant from Jamaica Plain, and John Taylor, who heads a national community organizing group, could also jump in.

But the challenge for the two current leading candidates is simple. If Joyce can frame the campaign for the Ninth Congressional District as a question of South Boston versus everyone else, he will replace Moakley. If Lynch can broaden his appeal to other parts of the city while making inroads into the suburbs, then he wins.

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Issue Date: June 21-28, 2001

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