BOSTON has always been the mecca for politics," says Bill Sutton, a 75-year-old Bay State political veteran. "You don't have to emulate anybody in Boston politics," he says. "If you are what you are, then you'll win."
Boston's political figures have always been colorful and distinctive. The most revealing moments of their careers have come not in major speeches or public policy positions, but in those moments of humor and bravado which have shown their more private sides. It is those few glimpses of their personalities, not their administrative accomplishments, which have made the most lasting impressions, and made them legends of political lore.
JOHN F. FITZGERALD-"Honey Fitz can talk you blind/On any subject you can find/Fish and fishing, motor boats/Railroads, streetcars, getting votes." Those are the words to the ditty dedicated to John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, the grandfather of John F. Kennedy and the first in the family to have "the gift" for politics almost a century ago. Honey Fitz was a talker, a charmer, a politician who made it largely on the strength of his charisma. As the first mayor of Boston whose parents were born in Ireland, and the first Roman Catholic in the U.S. House of Representatives, Fitzgerald was noted for having developed "the Irish switch"--the art of shaking hands with one person while talking to another.
JAMES MICHAEL CURLEY--Four times elected mayor, four times elected to Congress, once elected Governor and twice imprisoned, this upstart Irishman was the model for the protagonist of Edwin O'Connor's political novel, The Last Hurrah. But Curley's career was as checkered as it was successful. During his 1945 mayoral campaign, Curley was under indictment for mail fraud, based on a $60,000 favor he had done while in Congress. Curley won the election, was convicted of the charges and drew his mayoral salary for five months while in jail. When he was released in 1947, the people of Boston greeted him with a band and motorcade--suitable for the man who said "Politics and holiness are not always synonomous."
KEVIN WHITE--"Mayor DeLuxe" and "Kevin from Heaven" were both nicknames for the mayor of Boston from 1967 to 1983--the man credited for transforming the city into what Bostonians like to refer to as "a world-class city." Elected as a liberal reformer in the midst of the city's busing crisis, White's controversial personality came to dominate the Boston politics during his years in office. As the 1983 mayoral election was beginning to heat up, speculation ran rampant over White's decision to seek reelection. White spent $30,000 for a political commercial in which he would make his plans known. The night before the ad was scheduled to air, White approached Peter Lucas, a columnist for the Boston Herald, and told him he intended to run for reelection. Citing as a source "a close friend" of White's, the Herald ran a front-page story with a banner headline, "White Will Run." White had never intended to run, and used his commercial as a farewell to the people of Boston, gaining great satisfaction by getting revenge on Lucas, who had long been a critic of his administration.
LOUISE DAY HICKS--The controversial Hicks is one of the key characters in J. Anthony Lukas' Pulitzer Prize-winning book about Boston's busing crisis, Common Ground. Lukas describes Hicks, the school committee member who marshaled Boston's anti-busing forces, as a "huge marshmallow of a woman in her tentlike dresses."
During the school desegregation controversy, Boston Archbishop John Cardinal Cushing prevailed to pressure from pro-busing advocates, and tried to appeal to Hicks, a devout Catholic, to cease her crusade. Cushing told Hicks he had been asked to to march in protest with a group of Blacks in front of the Boston School Committee headquarters. According to Hicks, she said to the Cardinal, "Why don't you do that, Your Eminence, then come upstairs and receive my resignation."
"From the School Committee?" Cushing asked.
"No, from the Church," Hicks claims to have responded.
MEL KING--In 1969, while director of the Urban League of Eatern Massachusetts, King--now one of Boston's preeminent Black politicians--led a protest against the United Fund. King and others dumped table scraps on the head table of the Fund's award banquet--attended by 1000 businessmen--symbolizing, they said, the crumbs they felt the organization had been giving to Black groups.
Since then, King, a state representaive from Boston's South End from 1979 to 1983, has run for mayor twice and Congress once without success. In the process, he has abandoned his once-trademark dashikis for more mainstream suits and bowties. Most recently the 6'3" bald, bearded, MIT professor has spearheaded the unsuccessful effort to have the predominantly Black parts of Boston secede and form a community known as Mandela.
RAY FLYNN--The present mayor of Boston will most likely be remembered as the "People' Mayor." Flynn, after succeeding White, has demonstrated a disdain for his predecessor's ostentatious ways. Flynn went to his first inaugural in a pair of black shoes with holes in the soles. At an an earlier transition meeting with White, Flynn illegally parked his car--a 1975 Dodge Station wagon with a hole in the floor--and received a parking ticket as he discussed taking over the city's government. In case you're wondering, he promptly paid the ticket.
WILLIAM BULGER--One of the most important political events of the year in Boston is the annual St. Patrick's Day brunch hosted by State Senate President William "Billy" Bulger of South Boston. Bulger is both the wit and intellect of Boston politics--quick to lampoon fellow politicians, and always ready with a quote from Virgil. While on the road campaigning for Dukakis this summer, Bulger regaled the press corps with jokes about the candidate: "He may not have charisma," Bulger explains, "but he does have anesthesia."
JOSEPH KENNEDY--As the heir to what is regarded as the first family of Massachusetts politics, the freshman Congressman won a tough primary fight in 1986, beating out a crowded field of candidates in a bitter campaign where the inexperienced Kennedy was generally considered a political lightweight. Shortly after the election, the Kennedy School's Institute of Politics sponsored a week-long seminar for incoming congressmen. Kennedy was described by participants as inattentive, impatient and flippant. After skipping a speech by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Voloker to attend a Boston Celtics Game, Kennedy told the press that "I didn't run for Congress to set a good attendance record in school."