Everybody Wants to Be Mayor

POLITICS

FOR THOSE of you new to the Boston political scene, after two days of vigorous investigation, we are pleased to report the following:

Boston voters, however many of them will abandon the Red Sox and bother to vote, will elect a new mayor sometime in November. A field of six--only four of whom really count--will be winnowed down to a pair on September 25, when voters will go the polls for the preliminary elections.

God knows why--it doesn't pay very well and you get yelled at a lot--but everybody wants to be mayor of Boston. For those of you who are trivia buffs, two names which you might want to take note of, but will no doubt forget sometime in the wee hours of September 26, are Lawrence Sherman, candidate for the U.S. Labor Party, and Luis Castro, the Socialist Workers Party candidate. As the Boston Globe's Sunday magazine reported in an unusual flash of insight, "It is doubtful what they envision could come to pass without a revolution in thought." Well, yes.

Which brings us to, or leaves us with, Kevin "I-built-Quincy-Market" White. White, a benevolent-looking, white-haired man who will turn 50 the day of the preliminary election, has commanded the troops in City Hall for the past 12 years. Is White a glutton for punishment? The mayor, his aides whisper in your ear, has led the city through the worst of times (i.e. the civil war to desegrate the city's schools) and now wants to guide his city into the 1980's. White is seeking an unprecedented fourth term in office and, if enough people stay awake to listen to his pitch again, he just may do it. No matter whose polls you believe, White is the favorite. The only question is how strong he will be going into the runoff.

ANALYSTS SAY Sen. Joseph Timilty, whose challenge to White has become a painful exercise in redundancy, will run second to White in the preliminary. Timilty, who presided over President Carter's now-defunct National Commission of Neighborhoods and ran Carter through Pennsylvania, is after the mayor's scalp for the third time. He compares the White administration to a loaf of stale bread, believes in tax cuts, limiting condominium conversion along the lines of the Cambridge plan and the "neighborhood movement." What the neighborhood movement is, nobody, least of all the senator's staff, can put his finger on, although they're all willing to throw around the buzzwords of "empowerment and enfranchisement." Timilty is not really pushing decentralization of power, says a top aide, but "sharing of power." Insiders at the State House, meanwhile, wonder if Timilty is playing with a full deck; in the last campaign, White and Timilty exchanged some fairly rude comments about each other's mental stability. For Timilty, this is it: if he loses a third time, he may as well hang it up.

Boston School Committee President David Finnegan, the last in a trio of white Irish candidates, bills himself as the "fresh face" of the campaign. A lot of people on State Street thought that Finnegan might pull something off, if only because his name is not White or Timilty. But Finnegan is currently weighing in with about 10 or 15 per cent of the preliminary vote. His candidacy wasn't helped much, of course, by disclosures this summer that he was getting $20,000 a year as a lobbyist fot the tobacco industry. Finnegan believes in capital punishment (Why is capital punishment an issue in a municipal election? Because this is Boston), mandatory sentencing and rent control. Sometimes he even sounds like Gov. Edward J. King, promising to cut all government-funded abortions and yelling about improving public safety. But can the voters take this man, who wants to recruit police youth liaison officers "out of the Starsky and Hutch mold," seriously?

The thing to remember about State Rep. Melvin H. King, who is running third in the polls, is that he is black. He is also bald, has a beard and answers the phones in his campaign headquarters. He will also never be mayor of Boston. Sad to say, of course, because King's politics are refreshingly progressive. If elected, he says he would turn public housing projects into tenant cooperatives, attract more federal funds to the city and fire the guys who run what he labels the implicitly racist Police Department. As one might assume, King is expected to cut fairly deeply into White's traditionally strong constituency in the city's black areas. Although he harbors no good feelings toward either White or Timilty, his support in the runoff election might be crucial to the final outcome. A lot of people feel King is running because he has it in for White--but King says he is running because he wants to be mayor.

NOT MUCH of this really matters, of course, because the election, in keeping with tradition, is basically a referendum on White and his three-term record. Corruption, the shining issue in the Watergate-on-the-Charles atmosphere of 1975, has faded away; only one candidate still supports the ides of a new watchdog unit to oversee activities in City Hall. "If integrity was the issue in 1975," says one city insider, "leadership is the issue this year." The natural issue for this election was "time for a change." But for the majority of Bostonians, King is too much of a change and Finnegan stupidly got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. With only a dozen days left in the first campaign, it looks like (yawn) White and Timilty, singing the same old song.