Rep. Michael Capuano (D)
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.
Rep. Michael Capuano (D)
Elected: 1998, 6th term.
Born: Jan. 9, 1952, Somerville .
Education: Dartmouth Col., B.A. 1973, Boston Col., J.D. 1977.
Family: Married (Barbara); 2 children.
Elected office: Somerville alderman Ward 5, 1977-79; Somerville alderman-at-large, 1985-89; Somerville mayor, 1989-98.
Professional Career: Chief legal cnsl., MA Legislature Taxation Cmte., 1978-84; Practicing atty., 1984-90.
The congressman from the 8th District is Democrat Michael Capuano, the winner of a 10-candidate brawl in the 1998 primary who has been safe ever since. It has been said that over the past 70 years this district has been represented alternately by townies and Kennedys: James Michael Curley, the scampish five-term mayor of Boston and one-term governor; followed by John F. Kennedy in 1946. Then for many years, beginning in 1953, the seat belonged to Thomas (Tip) O’Neill, who rose to become speaker of the House. After his retirement in 1986, Joe Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, was elected to the seat. Then came Capuano, who was born and raised in Somerville. His paternal grandfather emigrated from Italy, and his father was the first Italian-American elected official in Somerville. His mother is the granddaughter of Irish immigrants. Capuano graduated from Dartmouth and Boston College Law School. He returned to Somerville to raise his family, practice law, and enter politics. By day, he worked for the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Taxation and practiced law. In off-hours, he served as alderman of the 5th Ward, as his father had. He served as alderman-at-large from 1985 to 1989, then won election five times as Somerville mayor. For decades an Irish and Italian town, Somerville now attracts many graduate students and yuppies. Capuano seems to have been the right politician for this mix, with deep Somerville roots and a penchant for innovation and reform. He had a solid base of support to run for the 8th District seat when Joe Kennedy declined to seek re-election. In a 10-candidate field, Capuano led with 23%, with former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn (1983-93) the runner-up at 17%.
|Michael Capuano (D)||185,530||(99%)||($554,013)|
|Michael Capuano (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (91%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (100%), 2000 (100%), 1998 (82%)
In the House, Capuano is well to the left on the political spectrum, although relatively centrist within the Massachusetts delegation. He supports same-sex marriage, opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion, and harshly criticized the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq. On the Financial Services Committee, he works closely with Chairman Barney Frank, another Massachusetts liberal Democrat.
Capuano is close to the Democratic leadership in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi trusts him to take on difficult assignments and quietly get the job done. Pelosi, who grew up in Baltimore as the daughter of a U.S. representative, shares with Capuano an urban, ethnic political background. After Democrats won majority control of the House in 2006 and Pelosi was elevated to the speakership, she tapped him to take charge of the myriad tasks in the transition. In some ways, it was a rocky exercise. With Pelosi, he backed Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha’s ill-fated challenge to Maryland’s Steny Hoyer for the post of majority leader. Tasked with helping to revise party caucus rules and ethics guidelines, Capuano emphasized inclusion and reform, and stayed out of the spotlight. In March 2008, the House passed his reform package, which created an Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent board that for the first time allows non-lawmakers to review possible ethics violations by House members. Congressional watchdog groups have long favored setting up such a panel. Republicans opposed the plan for its failure to put teeth into the House Standards of Official Conduct (Ethics) Committee, and the reform had little practical impact during its first year.
He also chairs the House Administration Committee’s Capitol Security Subcommittee, which puts him in charge of the Capitol Police force and other internal operations that affect the day-to-day lives of members of Congress. He was also assigned to head the Commission on Mailing Standards, which supervises franked mail, another sensitive insider task that requires the trust of House leaders. Republicans groused about possible free speech violations in a Capuano proposal to require House approval of members’ postings on outside websites, but he responded that the criticism was “laughably inaccurate.”
In the foreign policy arena, Capuano co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Sudan and traveled to the region in 2006 in support of United Nations peacekeeping forces.
Like any traditional Boston pol, he angles for federal goodies for his district. On the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he has worked to secure funding for the North Washington Street Bridge near North Station plus several rapid-transit extensions. After a fatal ceiling collapse in a tunnel that was part of Boston’s “Big Dig” (a massive highway and tunnel project) in 2006, he sponsored a bill setting highway tunnel inspection standards, which passed the House. When Catholic bishops across the nation said in 2004 that they would deny communion to presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts because of his support for abortion rights, Capuano was out front with a public reply to the bishops that Catholics should be able to vote their conscience. Capuano has expressed interest in running for the next available Senate seat in Massachusetts.