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[talking politics]

Meehan versus Tierney
Itís a race many Democrats donít want to think about, let alone talk about. A contest between two incumbents for the proposed Sixth Congressional District would be a mess.

BY SETH GITELL


Tierneyís usually effusive political consultant, Michael Goldman, refuses even to speculate on the possibility of such a race: " John Tierney believes that based on the ability of the people of the Fifth and the Sixth Districts to make the substantive case to legislative leaders in both the House and the Senate on the merits, there is zero possibility that the Fifth and the Sixth Districts will not ultimately be returned to the configurations which now exist. " And Will Keyser, a senior adviser to Meehan, says: " Itís far too early in the redistricting process to begin to even contemplate a race against any incumbent. "

Such reticence among political advisers makes sense ó and itís shared by the ordinarily loquacious punditocracy. Nobody wants to do anything to create bad blood while thereís still hope that such a race wonít come to pass. It was bad enough when, two days after Finneran announced his redistricting plan, the Boston Herald led the paper with an unseemly story about the tension between Meehan and Tierney. " Hey, letís not get ahead of ourselves here, " the Herald reported Meehan as telling Tierney on the House floor after reports surfaced that Tierney had begun calling on political leaders in cities and towns represented by Meehan. Since that time, the principals have deemed it best to keep their powder dry and their mouths closed. They pray that with Meehan out of the running for governor, Senate president Tom Birmingham will come to his rescue and restore the Fifth Congressional District, which was vaporized by Finneranís plan. Nobody wants to make enemies unnecessarily. In theory, Finneran could retreat from the " three noble goals " of his redistricting plan: to create compact districts that correspond to communities of interest, to establish the stateís first minority-majority district, and to accommodate population growth in southeastern Massachusetts. But the Speaker hasnít yet signaled a willingness to budge. In fact, when Meehan announced his decision to run for re-election to Congress, and not for the governorís office, Finneranís staff released a statement reiterating the three goals ó a far cry from welcoming Meehan back into the fold.

If neither Finneran nor Birmingham grants the wishes of Meehan and Tierney, then the Democratic primary could be a bruiser the likes of which the Commonwealth has not seen in two decades or more. The last time two incumbent representatives in Massachusetts faced off was in 1982, when the state lost a House seat because of a drop in population and Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat, was forced to battle Representative Margaret Heckler, a Republican, to remain in Congress. A fight between Meehan and Tierney would probably be far more bloody ó a fratricidal struggle between Democrats in a year when House minority leader Dick Gephardt is focused on retaking Congress and local party members are trying to end 12 years of Republican control of the governorís office.

THE CONVENTIONAL wisdom on a Meehan-Tierney fight generally favors Tierney. When the Boston Herald first reported on Finneranís redistricting plan, a headline referred to Meehan as the " Weakest Link. " In reality, the match-up isnít that clear-cut. Under Finneranís plan, Tierney loses Lynn to the new Eighth Congressional District, but gains Meehan strongholds in Lowell, Lawrence, Methuen, and Dracut. Political experts say Tierneyís former district represents 58 percent of the population of the new Sixth and Meehanís former district represents 42 percent. But an analysis of voting patterns reveals something a little different. In the last primary election, Tierney got 14,596 votes in the parts of his district that would stay in the new Sixth, while Meehan got 7179 in the parts of the proposed district that he represented at the time ó a difference of well under 10,000 votes. Although in an election that will probably see more Democratic votes cast than in 2000 ó when many voters took Republican primary ballots to vote for McCain ó he may need to pick up more than that.

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Issue Date: August 9-16, 2001


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