Reagan's quick, and perplexing, trip to Boston
Boston — ''Why Boston?'' As President Reagan landed at Logan Airport yesterday, that question was floating about New England's biggest city.
The whirlwind trip, lasting less than three hours, focused attention on two themes from Mr. Reagan's Tuesday State of the Union message: job training and high-technology growth.
Accompanied by his recently appointed secretary of Health and Human Services, Margaret Heckler (a former Massachusetts congresswoman), the President visited several locations: the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), a nonprofit organization specializing in minority job-training; an inner-city Digital Equipment Corporation factory; the suburban headquarters of Millipore Corporation, a high-technology company; and, in a surprise move, an Irish pub in a working-class section of Dorchester.
In the end, however, the visit raised as many questions as it answered - and ruffled a number of feathers.
In his first visit out of Washington since the State of the Union message - and his first official visit to Boston, which has survived the recession rather well - the President focused on:
Job training. In his State of the Union message, the President spoke of ''the special problems'' of ''young people trying to enter the job market.'' His visit to the OIC highlighted a new job-training program sponsored by IBM - a model of cooperation between a private firm and a community-based, nonprofit organization.
OIC director Clarence Donelan says the program, begun last October, is teaching computer skills to 64 inner-city residents. The Boston OIC, housed in a declining and sometimes troubled section of Roxbury, is a branch of a Philadelphia-based organization. In its 16-year history, says Mr. Donelan, the OIC has placed 12,500 people in jobs.
The visit to Digital, too, was a gesture of support for inner-city economic development. A mini-computer giant with 67,000 employees worldwide, Digital opened its white low-rise assembly plant in the CrossTown Industrial Park in Boston's Roxbury area in 1980.
Of its 275 employees, 60 percent are Boston residents and 61 percent are minorities. The plant is widely seen as a success story in attracting businesses into blighted urban areas - a subject the President has addressed through enterprise zone legislation.
High technology. Speaking of ''the man-made miracles of high technology,'' the President told Congress that his administration ''is committed to keeping America the technological leader of the world now and into the 21st century.'' The Digital and OIC visits supported that goal. But the centerpiece of the Reagan visit was an hour-long meeting with 14 industry leaders in the high-technology corridor along Route 128. The meeting was hosted by Millipore president Dimitri d'Arbeloff - who, as both the head of the Massachusetts High Technology Council and the vice-chairman of the American Business Conference, extended a personal invitation to President Reagan. The assembled executives, maintaining a nonpartisan line, expressed their concern about the effects tax policy on their industry, and focused on the relation between high tech and higher education.
But the visit also drew attention to potential contradictions between the President's message and his actions.
Although calling for a bipartisan approach, the Republican President did not extend invitations to meet with either Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis or Boston Mayor Kevin H. White, both of whom are Democrats. Spokesmen for both officials were evidently miffed. ''We weren't even notified of his arrival,'' said a mayoral official.
The President has also been criticized for being out of touch with the nation. His trip to Boston - known as one of the nation's more anti-Reagan communities - might have helped dissipate that appearance.
His published schedule - a tightly orchestrated series of helicopter hops allowing little contact with press or public - effectively sealed him off from the community. Even the unscheduled trip by an Irish president to a pub in a strongly Irish community was more symbolic gesture than public pulse-taking. Several scheduled stops, in fact, were closed to reporters, and there was no official press conference - forcing some reporters to focus on protest groups.
In choosing the sites, the President may have inadvertently called attention to the hardships caused by budget cuts. The OIC, funded through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, has suffered substantial cuts in funding. And Brian Dacey, director of the city's Economic Development and Industrial Commission which was instrumental in bringing Digital to Roxbury, noted that the $581,000 used in site preparation came through federal programs which have been cut.