Boston Mayoral Election May Usher In a New Era

AS Mayor Raymond Flynn's 9-1/2 year reign comes to a close, Boston is gearing up for what promises to be a lively fall mayoral contest.

So far, 11 candidates are running for the post in a city - the nation's 20th largest - that takes its politics as seriously as its local sports teams. Seven are well-known here; they are Democrats, though it is a nonpartisan election. An eighth, City Councilor at Large John Nucci, also a Democrat, withdrew his candidacy July 8 due to lack of funds.

The Sept. 21 special election will be held because of Mr. Flynn's March decision to become United States ambassador to the Vatican, a post offered by President Clinton. Flynn is expected to resign as mayor today.

"This is a very, very fast mayor's election. But it's a very important mayoral election," Mr. Nucci said at a community forum while he was still a candidate.

The election could signal a new political era after nearly a decade under Flynn.

In fact, 1993 marks a year of political change for many other cities as well, as some longtime city chiefs also decided to leave office. Tom Bradley left his 20-year job as Los Angeles mayor almost two weeks ago. Atlanta's Maynard Jackson and Detroit's Coleman Young will vacate their posts this fall.

Although Irish-American candidates usually do well in Boston, traditional ethnic rules may not hold true this time.

The prominent Irish-American contenders are: State Rep. James Brett, former Police Commissioner Francis (Mickey) Roache, and local TV journalist Christopher Lydon. Mr. Roache, a boyhood friend of Flynn, recently declared his candidacy after resigning from the police force, where he served eight years as chief. He could take votes from Mr. Brett, who draws support from the same neighborhoods, South Boston and Dorchester.

The major Italian-American candidates are: City Council President Thomas Menino, City Councilor at Large Rosaria Salerno, and Suffolk County Sheriff Robert Rufo. Ms. Salerno built a strong campaign organization as the only female major candidate. Mr. Menino will serve as acting mayor until the election. Mr. Rufo will face Roache, primarily, as the public-safety candidate.

City Councilor at Large Bruce Bolling, an African-American, will draw from the growing minority population, now at 45 percent, he says. He expects that the stagnant economy will be a key issue. "Two-income households are down to one income, and people are very concerned about what the future is going to bring," he says. "We have to be very aggressive in attracting new business development, retaining existing businesses, and helping them to expand."

Some say an Italian-American is likely to win, while others say the race is wide open. In any case, the city will probably opt for someone very different from Flynn, says Lawrence DiCara, former city councilor. "As much as [Flynn] has been a beloved figure, people are ready for a change," he says. While Flynn emphasized neighborhoods, some say he neglected downtown economic development.

Other issues likely to emerge include the troubled schools and police protection. Minorities, especially, feel that the appointed school board is undemocratic; they want an elected committee restored. Flynn, in an about-face, now agrees. Also, community activists are demanding more police officers on streets and a strong neighborhood-policing program.

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