Letters

I have read the Conversation with bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren in the recent issue of CommonWealth magazine (“Doubling Down,” Fall 2003). In short, let me say it was fantastic. It sent a message that should be read by every family or individual, whether they are just starting their financial life or are somewhat down the path and have not come to grips with financial reality.

I thought the article presented the message so well that I am sending a copy of it to every college graduate I know–the children of my friends–and to the high school principals in my district. I think that getting the moral of your lesson out into the young community may relieve future financial grief as well as reduce the divorce rate. When I started practicing law in 1966, the major cause of divorce on Cape Cod was not having enough money.

Rep. Thomas N. George
1st Barnstable District

Boston mayoral campaign was about race and class

The night of October 11, 1983, was indeed a watershed moment for black political power in Boston (“Black Power“). It was also a high water mark for populist politics. The surge of electoral activity that year was about more than race; it was about race and class. That evening, the city’s power structure lost complete control of a mayoral election that was still six weeks away.

A Paul Szep editorial cartoon captured the results of the preliminary election, which put Ray Flynn and Mel King into the November runoff, with full shock value: A dignified, elderly woman faints on the pavement. To the rescue come the mayoral finalists, Mel King in dashiki and Ray Flynn in scally cap. The matronly lady in distress is the Vault, the establishment committee of corporate CEOs who had backed anyone but these two.

In the final election, the two men argued over who was more authentically dedicated to social and economic justice. Though they had always considered themselves political competitors, Mel King and Ray Flynn could not help but agree on most issues. They supported rent control. They were for linkage. They ran against the downtown power structure. They advocated higher taxes on the wealthy in order to fund better services for poor and working-class people.

They both called for unity across neighborhoods in the face of downtown power. Mel had his Rainbow Coalition; Ray told audiences across the city, “The issues we share are more powerful than the issues that divide us.” There were two incidents of racial violence during the final six weeks of the campaign, and each time King and Flynn appeared jointly on television to call for peace and calm. Unity prevailed–and inspired.

It’s hard to imagine a campaign like that one today. Flynn organized 125 house parties across the city. King held rallies on every issue imaginable. A field of nine candidates–including former school committee president David Finnegan, former city council president Larry DiCara, and Suffolk County Sheriff Dennis Kearney–faced each other at 76 forums.

The climax of the campaign came five days before the preliminary election. Jesse Jackson came to town, endorsing King in front of more than 800 supporters at Concord Baptist Church, a political rally for the ages. That same evening, Ray Flynn stood on City Hall Plaza and confronted presumed frontrunner Finnegan live on the Six O’Clock News. “This building is not for sale,” Flynn shouted as he pointed to City Hall, the concrete fortress behind him. “Stop yelling at me, Ray,” Finnegan responded. Flynn kept pressing. “First you called me a racist, then you called me a lizard,” referring to a radio ad comparing Flynn to a chameleon.

More than 200,000 voters went to the polls for the final election, almost 70 percent of an electorate newly swollen by King’s voter-registration drives, and more than twice the number that voted in the 2001 mayoral election. It was this surge that raised hopes that a totally independent black candidate could become mayor.

The other path to power for black leaders is in coalition with white politicians. As hard as it is to imagine, this might very well have happened in 1983. If not for the unprecedented numbers of new voters, Finnegan would have outpolled King. In all likelihood, this would have led to a Flynn-King alliance in the final election and a multi-racial, coalition city government in January 1984. A coalition like this, perhaps with a black candidate atop the ticket, could happen in the future, but only if the issues are as clearly and passionately defined as they were that year.

Neil Sullivan
Dorchester

The writer was a campaign aide and chief policy aide to Mayor Ray Flynn from 1983 to 1992.