Was it that Michael Capuano had no clout in the new redistricting plan that was drawn up after the 2010 election? He had been elected to Congress in 1998 which should have given him at least a little more influence than Stephen Lynch from South Boston who was elected in 2000. It seemed that was not the case. Was it because of Lynch’s Southie connection that brought Whitey Bulger into the picture to influence the Massachusetts Legislature on behalf of Lynch as it was drawing up the plan? Their work was being done in 2011. If Whitey hadn’t been hiding out in Santa Monica and captured that year before the plan was signed into law by the governor some would suggest that was the case.
That plan was necessitated because back in 2010 Massachusetts lost one of its seats in the House of Representatives in Congress. This article noted: “we lose one of our congressional districts as part of the continuing decline of the Northeast and Midwest in favor of the South and West.” Capuano was asked about it but he passed it off saying, ““Populations shift. That’s part of life.” How little he realized it was going to be a big part of his life. He went on to say: “I’m not that worried about it, in the sense that, look, this has happened before. People tend to forget that at the beginning of the 20th century, we had 16 members in the delegation. He would add, “clout is a function of who you send to Washington.”
Capuano made those statements in December 2010. He had just been elected to his seventh term in Congress. He was beginning to gain a lot of clout. He had made powerful friends in Congress and elsewhere. He had moved farther and farther away from having an effective organization that could bring out the votes. He was deceiving himself by sitting on his laurels, his haunches and his important friends.
While working the redistricting plan the legislature was being lobbied by different groups seeking to have influence on the new districts. An influential group were the minorities. Outside of Edward Brooke no minority person had been elected to Congress from Massachusetts. Minority voters wanted a say in Washington, DC.
They argued that what if, what if a district was drawn in the tradition of Governor Elbridge Gerry to slice up communities so that blacks and Hispanics were packed together to outnumber or at least reach a point where a white candidate who was challenged may not necessarily win. To respond to that pressure the drafters had to make a district that included Boston and some of the surrounding communities.
While about 8% of Massachusetts is black the percentage in Boston and some neighboring communities is higher. Randolph is about 39% black, Boston is 25% and Cambridge is 11%. The Hispanic percentage in some of these places is also high. Chelsea is 48% and Boston 18% Hispanic. Looking at this it was clear that there was a way to draw a map that could put many minorities into the same district. One thing was clear though, a congressman from near Boston would be affected. These were Barney Frank, Stephen Lynch, Bill Keating, and Capuano. Stephen Lynch and Bill Keating worked together where Keating agreed to run from his Cape Cod home rather than the City of Quincy. That allowed Lynch to jettison some areas and pick up Quincy which mirrored much of his home community in South Boston.
The end result was that Capuano’s district would be the one where minorities were given a chance. It became 34% white, 27% black, 21% Hispanic, and 11% Asian. Lynch’s stayed 77% white while Keating’s and Kennedy’s (who replaced Frank) were as white as Lynch’s.
Capuano was in a similar position to that of Joe Crowley who lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Capuano, like Crowley, had the endorsement of all the top elected officials. Capuano, like Crowley, were running in minority majority districts. Capuano, like Crowley, had no foot soldiers – people enthused by them that they pounded the streets and went door to door. Ayanna Pressley like Ocasio-Cortez had the workers and the enthusiasm.
Ocasio-Cortez received 57.13% of the vote to Joe Crowley’s 42.5%; Pressley had 58.4% to Capuano’s 41.6%. These races were not even close. No one should have expected them to be because times are changing where the blacks, Hispanics and Asians like the Irish before them recognize the importance of not only having the vote but utilizing it.
It is nice to have a Pressley back on the national scene. Since Elvis left us and has yet to return perhaps now I can take out my old blue suede shoes and buff them up for one more stroll around the block. I’ll not be able to put my diminishing hair into a duck’s tail but I will wear a white T-shirt with a package of Camels rolled up in my sleeve. Congratulations to Ayanna Pressley for her victory.