Fall 2013 correspondence and updates

James Aloisi’s article in the Summer issue of CommonWealth (“Fitting the Boston mayoral race into a historical context”) offers an engaging account of the history of important transformational moments in Boston politics.

Flynn-King race deserved mention

James Aloisi’s article in the Summer issue of CommonWealth (“Fitting the Boston mayoral race into a historical context”) offers an engaging account of the history of important transformational moments in Boston politics.  (For Aloisi’s entire series on past mayoral races, go to CommonWealth­mag­azine.org) However, his list of mayoral elections that were “critical milestones” during the 20th century surprisingly omits the 1983 contest, which may have been the most significant in setting the city on the course it is on today.

The elections that Aloisi identifies —1909, 1913, 1949, 1959, and 1967— were all significant for different reasons. Boston’s history has long been the struggle over who gets what. The Irish in the 1909 and 1913 elections wrestled power away from the long dominant Yankee Brahmins to the benefit of the growing Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants and ushered in a period where their needs were addressed as they entered the middle class. The elections of 1949 and 1959 were a direct response to the crisis caused by federal policies of urban disinvestment in favor of the suburbs. The takeover of City Hall by the business-led governing coalition of Jerome Rappaport and his New Boston Com­mittee on behalf of Mayor John Hynes was followed in short order by the Boston Coordinating Committee (The Vault), led by Ralph Lowell and the other white Yankee males, aiming to regain control of the city to promote their economic interests. The Vault supported Collins’s election in 1959 and the hiring of Ed Logue, who Aloisi lauds as a visionary, as he implemented the systematic destruction of Boston’s South End and West End neighborhoods. Charlestown, South Boston, and Roxbury were also on the chopping block until a growing political resistance emerged.

In 1967, Kevin White was elected, in part, based upon his opposition to these policies and in direct response to the growing racial disparities in education, jobs, and housing policies created by the leaders of the prior governing regimes. White was right for the Boston of the time, but he, too, soon tired from the struggles of a changing city and looked to “move up” and away from the turbulent times. After abandoning his early liberal policies, he returned to the growth coalition model favored by the Vault, allowing the neighborhoods to starve while he focused on the rebirth of Quincy Market and growing the down­town skyline.

As pivotal as these races all were, certainly also worthy of inclusion was the 1983 election, when nine candidates vied in the first open race for mayor in 16 years. What made the 1983 election historically important was that it was the first repudiation of the business community since 1949. Finalists Ray Flynn and Mel King, the first African-American to reach the final in the city’s history, were united in embracing the need to promote social and economic justice for all Boston’s residents. More than 201,000 votes were cast in that final election for a new direction for Boston. Even with a growing population, turnout in Boston’s last five mayoral elections hasn’t even come close to that. From linkage to affordable housing, the agenda of the city shifted away from the downtown to the neighborhoods. The results: The period from 1984 to 1993 saw a transformation in race relations, reduced inequality, and expanded neighborhood empowerment. Boston saw real progress, while the growth in the downtown resulted in economic benefits redistributed to those most in need.

There is a breadth of capable candidates to succeed the 20-year mayoralty of Tom Menino. Let’s hope that the next mayor will transform the city in a way that results in a shared prosperity for all Bostonians.

Don Gillis

Don Gillis served as executive director of the Economic Development Industrial Corporation of Boston under Mayor Ray Flynn.

Ex-Holyoke mayor disputes Morse

Overall, the article in the Summer issue on Holyoke’s new high performance computing center (“Booting up”) was done very well, but I would suggest doing more background work on how the computer center came to be. Back in the mid-1990s, several of us city councilors, along with the Holy­oke Gas and Electric Depart­ment, were advocating for the city to bid for the license for the Holyoke dam which the Federal Energy Regu­latory Commission (FERC) had put in process.

The city lost its bid to Northeast Utilities, which eventually ended up putting the dam license up for sale because of the onerous mitigations that FERC had attached to the license, reducing its value. We continued our push for purchase and finally convinced the powers that be what a great deal this was for the city. This happened in the early 2000s. It was because of this purchase that the City of Holyoke was able to offer the reduced price for electricity to the universities for a high performance computing center. There were other factors involved, but this was the main one. This was our legacy to future generations just as our forefathers’ purchase of the Tighe-Carmody Reservoir and Manhan Dam in the 1800s was.

One thing I must clarify, though, is Mayor Alex Morse’s statement that because the previous administration did not pursue a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) program when the permits were being pulled for the computer center project, the city had to accept a payment of only $80,000. However, the previous administration, of which I was mayor, vigorously pursued a PILOT program with the computing center. However, the board of directors and the executive director of the center were not in place until January and February of 2012, during Morse’s term. His administration would have had the final say on negotiating a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes with the universities.

Elaine Pluta
Former mayor and city councilor

They are regulated

The statement that Massachusetts doesn’t license title insurers (“Title insurance: No regulation, few claims, huge profits,” Summer ’13) is incorrect. Title insurers are licensed pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws chapter 175. As Casey Stengel used to say, you could look it up.

Cornelius Chapman


Due to a production error, author Herman Melville’s last name was mis­spelled in state education commissioner Mitchell Chester’s essay in the Summer issue on the debate over Common Core State Standards.