Boston, Massachusetts

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Boston was ready for change when 16-year incumbent mayor Kevin White stepped down in 1983. South Boston populist Ray Flynn and African American "rainbow coalition" advocate Mel King reached a dead heat in the preliminary mayoral election. Flynn prevailed in the general election, then pursued a neighborhood oriented strategy through nine and one-half years. He emphasized the common interests of working class neighborhoods in redistributive issues, particularly housing costs, that were escalating, by taxing and otherwise extracting surplus from the city's booming office and upscale housing development.

Flynn had run as a "neighborhood mayor," and one of his first policy efforts was to protect or extend rent control; and when he was unable to get this through the city council, he implemented "linkage," which would attach fees to large office buildings in the downtown and provide an affordable housing trust fund. He succeeded in this, and in a series of related moves to increase the stock of affordable housing. In order to build the new units, his administration urged neighborhood organizations to become property developers. With the linkage funds and other help, the capacities of a number of these groups developed dramatically, some at the cost of their earlier protest functions.

Meanwhile in the neighborhoods there was interest in power sharing. There had been an advisory referendum recommending neighborhood councils, but the sticking point for Flynn was the demand for neighborhood council veto powers over development projects. He vacillated and ultimately withdrew support for the veto in one case; and later did not support a Coalition for Community Control of Development (CCCD) representing a wide and multiracial swath of the city, that sought at least a degree of control.


Recent Submissions

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    Ray Flynn's Legacy: American Cities and the Progressive Agenda
    Dreier, Peter (1993)
    Raymond Flynn won Boston's mayoralty in 1983 after a virtual tie in the preliminary election, as he and Mel King led a field of nine, each with approximately 29 percent of the votes. Both were neighborhood activists who had been in the state legislature. Both had been underdogs in the preliminary election, but defeated a better financed developer-friendly candidate. In the general election Flynn, white and from South Boston, won handily over King, a black who was on the faculty at MIT. The Boston Globe, endorsing Flynn, argued that he was in a better position to reach out to South Boston conservatives. One King supporter, perhaps unsurprised by the outcome, commented: "...they elected the two most pro neighborhood people as finalists and then what followed was ... neighborhood forums where you were hearing different theories of community empowerment and organizing ... it was really an education for the whole populace." In this retrospective, Peter Dreier, a housing activist who became Flynn's housing policy advisor, describes the results as they unfolded in City Hall: significant accomplishments against a troubled history marred by the busing conflicts of the previous decade.
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    Transformative Populism and the Development of Community of Color
    Kennedy, Marie; Tilly, Chris; Gaston, Mauricio (Temple University Press, 1990)
    Kennedy was a supporter and key worker in Mel King's 1983 Boston mayoral campaign. King had projected a vision of populism that the authors describe as "transformative," in contrast to that of Ray Flynn's "redistributive populism" -- where a common consciousness of the struggle of the have-nots against class oppressors and exploiters is seen as a means to a better share of the common pie. In contrast, "transformative populism" sees the development of consciousness as both a means and an end in itself, a share of wealth not elevated over the sense of self worth of variously identified individuals and groups. This difference became critical on questions of race. In the Boston election and its aftermath, "Flynn asserted ... that 'the real problem' is economic discrimination ...” King, in contrast, targeted racism as a serious problem in its own right and challenged whites and blacks to confront the problem. Flynn won the election, but groups like the Coalition for Community Control of Development continued to agitate for a broader approach throughout Flynn's mayoralty.