Mayor Puts Neighborhoods First

Flynn's emphasis on local communities seen as shift away from predecessor's business focus

WHETHER he arrives by snowplow, in a fire truck, or in his usual Ford station wagon, Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn enjoys a high profile in city neighborhoods.

During his 9-1/2 years as mayor, Mr. Flynn built a reputation as "mayor of the neighborhoods" and his populist style has won him high marks in residential areas. A 1991 independent poll even found that 43 percent of Boston voters had met the mayor personally.

Take Jamaica Plain, a racially mixed Boston community with a slow-paced, neighborhood feel. Sandra Storey, publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette, says Flynn visited the area so often that the newspaper considered sending him as a joke a "mayor's scrapbook" of photos documenting all his local appearances.

Unlike his predecessor, four-term Boston Mayor Kevin White, who emphasized downtown development, Flynn championed the concerns of city neighborhoods. In City Hall, he created the Office of Neighborhood Services. He also urged the concept of "linkage," requiring, for example, nonresidential developers to pay fees for new construction into city housing and job training trust funds.

Those who worked closely with the mayor say his low-key neighborhood style began early in his career as a probation officer and later as a city councilor. During his first mayoral campaign in 1983, Flynn kept up a frenetic pace of neighborhood visits by attending 135 house parties and 87 campaign forums that year, says Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council and a former Flynn aide.

"You can't run a major city from City Hall," says Flynn. "You have to go into Dunkin' Donuts and Papa Ginos and the union halls and the churches. You have to really connect with the clergy of all religious faiths. You have to build confidence and relationships on a personal level."

As mayor, Flynn frequently appears at a late-night crime scene, fire, or community meeting. Ted Landsmark, a Flynn aide, recalls the time when Flynn insisted on walking the streets of a high-crime neighborhood the night after two shootings occurred there. The mayor wanted to "get a feel of the neighborhood and assure residents," Mr. Landsmark says.

Some critics fault the mayor for seeking Page 1 headlines at such scenes. Jamaica Plain resident Stavros Frantzis, a developer, says Flynn "gave to the neighborhoods the sense of involvement, but I think that was all a lot of good public relations." He and others say Flynn should have more worked more closely with the downtown business community and helped smaller businesses.

"I believe the city of Boston penalized me as a small inner-city developer by increasing my real estate taxes by as much as 20 percent of my gross rental income," Mr. Frantzis says.

A few streets down in Jamaica Plain is Robert Shortsleeve, president of the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association. Mr. Shortsleeve says he is looking forward to an administration more friendly to business.

"I think that Ray was elected by a lot of grass-roots organizations, tenants organizations, and liberal causes," says Shortsleeve. "I think [at that time] it was necesssary to bring the focus of Boston back into the neighborhoods. And now that it's the end of his mayoral career, it seems the pendulum is finally starting to swing back to business and economic issues."

But longtime Jamaica Plain resident Tito Hernandez, who owns an auto repair shop, says Flynn has helped maintain racial harmony. "He's been a good mayor. I can't complain," he says. "He [helped] get people together."

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