Boston Mayor Ray Flynn stirred up what had been an uneventful re-election contest last Thursday by announcing plans to integrate three all-white housing projects in South Boston.
The September 22 preliminaries saw a low voter turnout, a small field of candidates and a wide margin of popular support for the incumbent. Flynn took 70 percent of the vote to Tierney's 27 percent in that election, which eliminated a Socialist and a follower of Presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche.
Until yesterday, political gurus were yawning about Tuesday's general election. Frank Doyle, Flynn's campaign manager, could muster only this response, "How can you say it has been boring, with eight public media forums and twenty neighborhood forums?"
But Flynn's margin of popularity, as demonstrated in the September preliminaries, and success with some of the major issues confronting the city may be challenged on Tuesday by his new housing proposal.
The major issue confronting Boston this election has been the call for more public housing. The mayor's recent proposal to integrate three housing projects in South Boston has created controvery about how he has dealt with this issue citywide. It has also raised the specter of racial tensions that have haunted Boston since the busing crisis a decade ago.
The Mary E. McCormack, Old Colony and West Broadway housing projects of South Boston house 2347 families, 39 of which are Asian, Hispanic or American Indian. But under Flynn's new proposal, Blacks and then other minorities will be given preference there in the future.
The plan has angered the white residents of South Boston, who were among the fiercest opponents of school integration in the last decade. As they did then, they say Black residents are intruders trying to push them out of their homes.
"This shows what Flynn's housing stance really is, not what he says it is," says Evelyn Friedman of the Tierney campaign.
The South Boston Community Development Corporation (SBCDC), a non-profit housing group, is using the mayor's unpopular housing proposal to encourge his home base constituency to vote for Tierney, who is from that area.
"It's another case of here we go again regarding racial battles," says SBCDC chairman Daniel Yotts. He said Flynn will find out on election day that his home neighborhood is "upset at him."
"Joseph Tierney is no alternative to Flynn on issues of housing," says Yotts--but he adds that he and his community want to know "why Flynn can't figure out some formula to force integration on the more economically sound people than to force it on the indigent."
But although this latest housing proposal has added a little spice to the mayoral race, few think Tierney will be able to gain enough momentum to unseat Flynn. The perception that Flynn is a sure bet to win Tuesday has hurt Tierney in his efforts to get voter attention during the past month.
Sharon Wilmore, a spokesman for City Councilor Charles Yancey, says the Tierney campaign should not complain of unfair press coverage. "It's just hard to run against a man as popular as Flynn," she adds.
Doyle says Flynn owes much of his popularity to his 16 years of public office as a city councilor and then as mayor. He says the local news media have also helped Flynn address his constituency. "It just goes to show that a direct connection with the people yields grassroots support," says Doyle.
Flynn's supporters on the City Council say he has a strong record to back up his public style. He takes credit for balancing the city budget three consecutive times for the first time in a decade, and for 11,000 housing starts in the city over the past four years.
Flynn's South Boston origin was seen as a liability in his first campaign, when he won a close race against Melvin H. King, who would have been the first Black elected Mayor of Boston. But in this year's preliminary elections, Flynn's highest victory margins were in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, predominantly Black areas of the city where Tierney has campaigned very little.
Public safety and housing are the prime concerns in those areas. Doyle says. Although the mayor has opened a "Say No to Drugs" and a Boston Against Drugs campaign, some City Councilors and other critics say this is not enough.
Flynn also takes credit for opening new police stations and for expanding the police force in these areas. But City Councilor James E. Burn, who represents Dorchester and Mattapan, says Flynn is taking credit for community sacrifice and hard work. "It's been like pulling teeth, trying to get support for an extended police force," says Yancey.