Two former congressmen will lead a task force charged with guarding the North Shore from the looming claw of redistricting.
Democrat Michael Harrington and Republican Peter Torkildsen will co-chair the Congressional Redistricting Working Group, which plans to present arguments for preserving the 6th District as a Statehouse subcommittee redraws congressional boundary lines.
Because Massachusetts' population grew at a slower pace than other parts of the country, the Bay State's congressional delegation will shrink from 10 to nine in 2012.
That means one district will be completely wiped off the political map, its communities absorbed by other districts.
North Shore leaders don't want the redistricting ax to chop up the North Shore and plan to present their case to Statehouse lawmakers, arguing that history, geography and the cohesion of the region are all strong reasons to keep the 6th.
But at least one of them admitted that politics may carry more weight in the end than persuasive arguments.
"What role will politics play? My answer — 100 percent," said Harrington.
Nonetheless, Harrington believes that the 6th as drawn resembles an ideal district shape, compared to others that crisscross and meander randomly in and out of other regions in the state.
"The strongest arguments are history and the fact that you do meet what ideally the map-makers would want — conciseness and compactness," said Harrington.
Longevity, he noted, is also on the North Shore's side.
"We're probably the oldest district in the country," he said.
Torkildsen, meanwhile, said the region must ready itself for the unpredictable twists and turns of the redistricting, which occurs every 10 years.
"You have to remember the 6th District was part of the original gerrymandering in 1812, so you have to be prepared for anything. But it's far better to make a proactive case than to sit back and hope," said Torkildsen.
Thirty communities stretching from Rockport to Bedford comprise the 6th District, bordered by ocean and the New Hampshire state line on two of its four sides. It has survived several redistricting processes in the past, including a 1960 reduction from 14 to 12 districts.
The expected population for each of the nine redrawn districts is 727,000 people, according to figures from the North Shore Alliance for Economic Development, which is also pushing for a preserved North Shore.
That means the 6th would have to add approximately 71,000 residents, potentially by absorbing bordering communities.
One thing leaders don't want, however, is a merging of North Shore and Merrimack Valley communities.
"We believe the North Shore is a distinct region that has branded itself as a distinct region," said Bill Luster, the executive director of the alliance. "We want to make sure we're represented in Congress as a region."
The public will have a chance to weigh in during the process. The legislative redistricting committee that will redraw the lines will hold 13 public hearings throughout the state this year. No date has been set for a North Shore hearing, but state Rep. John Keenan, a committee member, expects a June meeting.
"There's quite a bit of material to take in and comprehend," said Keenan. "... It's going to be interesting to hear the testimony as we go through it and hear what folks say about their districts. ... We're committed to an open and transparent process."
Staff writer Chris Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisCassidy_SN.