Massachusetts 8th District
The “Hub of the Solar System” is what the elder Oliver Wendell Holmes called the Massachusetts State House in the 19th century, though over time, his statement has come to be remembered as referring to Boston as the “Hub of the Universe.” Either way, this most political of cities has often been the focal point of essential moments in American history. On its streets, originally laid out as 17th-century cowpaths, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere plotted revolution, the abolitionist movement helped ignite the Civil War, and various Kennedys opened their campaign headquarters. Today’s Boston is different from the Boston of John F. Kennedy’s time. Then it was a gray city with no new buildings and dust on every windowsill. The sky was dark with pollution, and the air was thick with ancient Yankee and Irish animosity. The old office buildings were full of Yankees seeking safe investments for their antique family fortunes. The Statehouse and City Hall were full of Irishmen, scampering after good patronage jobs and regaling one another with political battle stories. These days, that Boston is mostly gone. The new skyscrapers are full of well-educated venture capitalists, lawyers, and management consultants, many working for high-tech companies radiating from Cambridge out into the countryside. Of the 200 or so U.S. cities with populations greater than 160,000, only four (Boulder, Colo.; Madison, Wis.; San Jose, Calif.; and Stamford, Conn.) have a larger share of residents with college degrees than Boston. Most of the city’s neighborhoods have changed. Minorities and young singles increasingly populate the central city, which has one of the nation’s lowest percentages of school children. The city’s population is down from 801,000 in 1950 to 600,000 in 2007, and more than 80% of the people in the metropolitan area live in the suburbs.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
A generation ago, students from suburbs across the country who were exploring Boston from their dormitories and campuses felt as if they were pawing through the living remnants of 1920s America, a quaint town where the locals called traffic circles “rotaries” and milk shakes “frappes.” But Massachusetts has evolved, and nowhere more than in Cambridge. As universities and high tech and biotech have become driving forces of economic growth, Cambridge has gone glitzy, with restaurants and high-priced hotels, trendy boutiques, and upscale condominiums. The Harvard University campus now has more land in Boston than in Cambridge. Greater Boston may well have a larger concentration of graduate students and post-graduate hangers-on than any other major U.S. city, and this graduate student community’s world is centered on Cambridge, with outposts in lower-income Somerville and in the neighborhoods of tony Back Bay, funky Allston, and the more-family-oriented Brighton near Harvard Business School. Boston Harbor, which George H.W. Bush famously criticized for its pollution in 1988, has been cleaned up, and its port traffic is growing.
These communities are part of Massachusetts’ 8th Congressional District, a region rich with historical sites, from the Paul Revere house in the North End to the frigate USS Constitution in the Charlestown docks. And with MIT and the software concentration in Cambridge’s once-downscale Lechmere Square, the district is one of the high-tech capitals of America. The 8th includes all of Cambridge, Somerville, and economically revived Chelsea, and many Boston neighborhoods—newly upscale and diverse East Boston around Logan Airport, Brighton and the Back Bay, Fenway, Mattapan, Mission Hill, the South End. It shares Hyde Park, Roxbury, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain with the neighboring 9th District. For the first time in its history, whites are a minority of Boston’s population. Hispanics have replaced the many Irish and Italians who left in the 1970s because of court-ordered school busing. They have caused a population boom in Chelsea and in Dorchester, which annually celebrates one of the nation’s largest Caribbean festivals. This is by far the most Democratic district in Democratic Massachusetts.