Traditions crumble as Boston chooses mayoral candidates

It's time for a fundamental change in Boston politics. That was the message from voters in Tuesday's preliminary mayoral election. The results of the election, which had a turnout of more than 63 percent, have been hailed ''historic'' by many in this city. The nonpartisan election narrowed the field of nine candidates to two - Melvin H. King and Raymond L. Flynn.

The vote was historic for several reasons:

* For 10 years Boston has had a booming downtown and sagging neighborhoods. Both candidates stress restoration of neighborhoods as a top priority.

* Boston has a reputation for being a racist city. Mr. King is the first black ever to make it to Boston's final election. Following on the heels of the mayoral election of Harold Washington in Chicago and the nomination of Wilson Goode in Philadelphia, many see this as part of a national trend toward stronger black representation in politics.

* The long-held view in Boston that money wins elections has crumbled. Of the top five candidates, both Mr. King and Mr. Flynn raised and spent less money than their challengers, and together spent less money than the other top challenger, David I. Finnegan.

From the time that four-term Mayor Kevin H. White announced he would not seek reelection, Mr. Finnegan was seen as the front-runner. He raised more than $800, 000, but his position slid, until the three candidates were running neck and neck for the two final election slots. Neither King nor Flynn spent more than $ 300,000.

In contrast to Mayor White's long-term policies of supporting downtown development, both candidates focused on the neighborhoods. They canvassed the city and brought their messages of neighborhood revitalization to the voters.

Both candidates have similar stands on various issues. They pledge to work for better housing, for better jobs for Boston residents, to improve Boston's troubled schools, to support public health care and care for the elderly. And both pledge ''to bring people together.''

Flynn, the ''populist'' candidate, gains strong support from labor unions and tenant groups. He calls his win ''a victory for the people and neighborhoods of Boston - a fundamental change in city politics.'' He received few minority votes.

King, who seeks a ''rainbow coalition,'' received about 85 percent of the black vote. He also had a strong showing among white voters - about 15 percent. He says his candidacy already has changed Boston. ''No longer can a candidate run on a racist policy,'' he says.

Nationally prominent black political figures came to Boston to stump for King during his campaign. King supporters promoted voter registration drives around the city, and 53,000 new voters - a large proportion of them minorities - were added to city registers.

Estimates are that King will have to get 35 percent of the white vote to win on Nov. 15. Many political observers applaud the fact that King has done so well - and the change this represents for Boston. But most agree that King faces the larger uphill battle.

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