If anything symbolizes Kevin White's 16 often tumultuous years as the mayor of Boston, it would have to be the city's skyline of soaring high-rises and gleaming office towers. Much of that landscape grew out of plans laid under Mr. White's predecessor. But it was Kevin White - epitomizing the vigorous development approach of many big city mayors in the '60s and '70s - who carried the grand plans to fruition. Now, in deciding to step down as mayor, Mr. White clears the way for his successor to resolve the city's primary challenges: rejuvenating the neighborhoods and local communities economically while ending the racial and ethnic divisiveness that has kept Boston's citizens from working together in harmony.
Boston, it need hardly be said, has never been shy about its politics - or its zeal for commerce. Often boisterous, always high-spirited, and usually well-intentioned, the city's political give-and-take over the years has tended to take on the pungency and distinctiveness common to a seacoast community oriented to shipping and industry. In this sense Mayor White's massive urban-renewal plans cannot be underestimated. At a time when many large cities are in physical decline, Boston through its many construction projects has provided its residents with a substantial tax base and future jobs.
At the same time, as Mayor White himself must have come to realize, the politics of the 1980s has become increasingly decentralized and neighborhood-oriented. So to many Bostonians the mayor's powerful political apparatus has become an anachronism. Especially in light of the cloud now hanging over it. Many questions are being asked about the administrative and fund-raising activities of the White organization. The fact that an investigation is now underway by the US Attorney's office and that two of Mr. White's political operatives have been convicted of fraud and sentenced to jail could only have proven embarrassing in the upcoming election - despite the fact that the mayor himself has not been implicated in any wrongdoing.
In the final analysis, Boston's real strength - today as in the past - lies in the resourcefulness and character of its citizens. As Mayor White himself said in his surprise TV announcement: ''There will be no 'Last Hurrah' for this city. No, Boston, this is just the beginning.'' It is a fitting and eloquent tribute to the White years that Boston can look forward to a vital future.