Boston Mayorathon

BOSTON BEGAN preparations months ago for the elections to be held in the fall of this year. The first contest, the "preliminary election" for mayor, is drawing the immediate attention of many possible candidates, as well as the interest of some special groups. Regardless of pary affiliation, only the two candidates with the highest preliminary vote totals will advance to the final election in November.

Aside from incumbent Kevin H. White, other candidates have been slow to appear this spring. So far, state Representative Raymond Flynn, Suffolk County Sheriff Thomas S. Eisenstadt and state Senator Joseph E. Timilty are the only other major figures to have entered the race. There still remain several people who are actively considering entertaining the mayoral race and others who are always potential candidates.

The most notable of these is Louise Day Hicks, who was White's final-round opponent in both of his previous victories. According to one poll by White's organization, Mrs. Hicks is the strongest of his possible opponents. Despite this strength, she has shown little interest in running.

Sheriff Eisenstadt joins a group of other possibles, including City Councilman Christopher Iannella, School Committeeman John Kerrigan and WHDH talkmaster Avi Nelson, who probably will not be important candidates in the September race. Eisenstadt and Kerrigan have limited political bases and are not in strong financial positions. Iannella suffers from money problems originating in an unsuccessful bid for state office. Although Nelson reportedly has the support of some influential Republicans in Boston, he too lacks a wide political base, appealing primarily to extreme antibusing forces.

The favorite of the antibusing forces is state Senator William "Billy" Bulger of South Boston. As late as February, he was "seriously considering" entering the race for mayor. Then the prospect grew unlikely for a while. But in order to satisfy busing foes, he has not discarded that possibility. And recently in view of Federal District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr.'s Phase Two ruling, incentives for him to try for the mayor's post may have grown.


If Bulger declines to run, the antibusing forces may turn to state Representative Raymond Flynn, also of South Boston. Flynn could win strong support from this group, but he lacks appeal elsewhere. With Mrs. Hicks, he has been the most forceful opponent of busing in Boston and, at the same time, has failed to pay much attention to other issues. He has already announced his candidacy, but up to this point, it centers on only one issue.

Among the major candidates, only state Senator Timilty of Mattapan remains. He will probably be White's toughest competition in the preliminary. His support comes mostly from white, middle-class, middle-income families. He has opposed forced busing from the outset, but has not gained a large following on the issue because he has avoided rallies (his children are being bused and he feels that such public appearances would not help them). Still, of all White's opponents, Timilty has the broadest base of support, a good organization and several key issues.

The most important, of course, will be busing. When the busing plan began last September, Mayor White seemed to be in a poor position; he was the prime target of the antibusing forces' vigorous attacks. Since that time, though, the situation has changed considerably, and much to his advantage. Judge Garrity has helped to case some of this pressure on White. The antibusing forces have now aimed their protests at the judge as the source of the busing plan. White has managed to regain at least some of his lost position because of this.

More importantly, the antibusing forces have hurt their own chances of exercising some political power by their lack of solidarity. Last fall, a major antibusing organization, Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR), had expected to rise to prominence as a political force. The group was fragmented, however, by different factions that supported particular candidates. ROAR's power has since declined (it now refuses to endorse any candidate) and the antibusing forces now are no closer to favoring any individual candidates.

Although busing will be the biggest issue in the fall elections, several others have been raised. Mayor White intends to campaign on the improvements he has made in Boston's neighborhoods and his success in stabilizing the tax rate for three consecutive years. Timilty will counter by attacking White's obvious aspirations to national office, claiming that insufficient attention is being paid to the city. Furthermore, Timilty is trying to uncover political corruption in White's city organization. The areas he is presently investigating concern connections between campaign contributions, firemen's jobs, property tax abatements and the awarding of no-bid contracts.

Otherwise, Mayor White looks strong. He has several significant advantages over his opponents; his campaign organization is good and is well-prepared for the fall; he has a firm and widespread political base among the elderly and blacks, two groups which comprise over one-third of Boston's voting population; and he has far more money than his opponents, with a campaign fund of almost half a million dollars. Moreover, White is the incumbent, with an eight-year record--a formidable advantage.

The question now should not be whether Kevin White will be re-elected as mayor in November, but how great his margin of victory will be. Against a disorganized field of candidates, save for Senator Timilty, his position looks too strong to beat. Although he does feel more confident than last fall, White himself expresses only "cautious hope" for a victory. Perhaps one of his aides was more realistic: "We're going to win no matter who runs."

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