Lynch embraces new district

(Courtesy Photo) U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch.

Congressman Stephen Lynch is a fan of controversial plan that significantly expands the district he represents in Jamaica Plain, he told the Gazette in a phone interview last week.

“I think it’s great. The driving force behind redistricting was trying to come up with a district that is minority-majority. Everyone had to bend a little,” he said.

Lynch is embracing the plan—which will expand the district he represents from Jamaica Hills to including a large piece of southern JP—despite concerns from some Jamaica Plain residents about being represented by him.

In the week leading up to the plan’s approval, activists from the group JP Progressives complained that Lynch—a self-described moderate Democrat—is not liberal enough for the community. Responding to those concerns, JP’s state Reps. Liz Malia and Jeffrey Sánchez and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz all put forward ultimately unsuccessful plans that would have removed JP from that district.

Lynch said he is unfazed. “Because I am a moderate, most of the complaints about me come from the extreme right or the extreme left,” he said. “Criticism comes from the right in some towns in the district,” which includes a handful of suburban towns south of Boston.

In the upcoming 2012 election—when the redrawn district will come into effect,  “I expect I’ll have a challenger—a Democratic challenger and a Republican challenger. It’s not at all a foregone conclusion,” he said.

Lynch said he and JP’s other congressman, liberal Michael Capuano, “probably vote the same on 90 to 95 percent of the issues.” But he has made some high-profile votes that have irked progressives, including opposing President Obama’s 2010 Health Care Reform Act, because he felt the final bill did not put enough pressure on insurance companies to curb costs.

He faced challengers both from the right and the left in the election that followed that vote.

“I took a little heat, but I won [re-election] that year by the widest margin of any candidate in a contested election in New England,” he said. “I hope I do that well again in the next election.”

He has won re-election easily every two years since he was first elected in 2001 to replace the late Congressman Joseph Moakley. That election happened on Sept. 11 of that year and went ahead despite the terrorist attack on the U.S. that day.

A liberal candidate, Cheryl Jacques, won JP handily that year, taking 64 percent of the vote.

“She was an extreme liberal,” Lynch said in his recent conversation with the Gazette. “Neither one of us had represented JP at that time. I am hoping for a better result than then.”

As the congressman for Jamaica Hills, Lynch demonstrated that he is well aware of what is going on in the neighborhood. He said he has been a consistent advocate for funding for the redevelopment of the Arborway bus yard in Forest Hills, even though the bus yard is technically in Capuano’s district.

“I hear from constituents about it on a regular basis. Mike and I have worked together on a lot of neighborhood issues…It’s much easier to work in partnership than it is to figure out which side street you represent,” he said.

Lynch said he thought it was a strategic mistake for the MBTA to apply for a $155 million grant from the Federal Transportation Administration this year for the estimated $220 million project.

It would have made more sense, he said, if they had tried “to get 20 percent or a quarter of the funding. Once [the FTA] makes that first commitment, it usually binds them to commit more in the future.”

Because Massachusetts is losing a Congressional district next year, those districts are being re-numbered. The district Lynch currently represents will become the 8th and the one Capuano represents will become the 7th.

The rationale behind splitting JP between the districts currently represented by Lynch and Capuano is to create a strong minority-majority district in the new 7th District. Currently, the majority or residents in Capuano’s district are non-white, but the changes, including removing the JP sections of the district, make the new district’s voting age population majority non-white.

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