Boston looks ahead

Boston joins such major United States cities as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Denver in proving that, given determination and old-fashioned grass-roots organizing, candidates from a broad spectrum of the electorate can compete for the city's highest position.

By every measurement, Boston's primary election this week to tap a successor to four-term Mayor Kevin White was historical. The two winning candidates in the crowded field of nine, city councilor Ray Flynn and former state Rep. Melvin King, both spoke out for the need to revitalize neighborhoods and aid the city's poorer, least-advantaged segments of society, as contrasted with the emphasis on downtown building development under Mr. White. If elected, Mr. Flynn will be the first mayor from South Boston, scene of racial turmoil only a decade ago involving court-ordered school busing. Mr. King, if elected, will be Boston's first black mayor a decade after that same racial turbulence so threatened the social and economic fabric of the city.

In a large sense, Boston's primary election stands as a graphic proof of the fundamental changes that have been under way during the past decade or so, but have often been obscured by the real estate boom that has altered the city's skyline. Thousands of Bostonians are newcomers, many of them students. The newer Bostonians are younger, well educated, more future-oriented, and devoid of the tensions of the past. Their concerns are not necessarily the racial or ethnic issues of Boston of earlier years. They seek jobs, green spaces, affordable housing, better schools and public services.

And they voted. Some 53,000 new voters enrolled for the primary. Altogether, new voters made up 20 percent of the total electorate. And of those 53,000 new voters, 40 percent or so came from the minority community.

The challenge for the candidates - and indeed, all Bostonians - seems clear for the period between now and Nov. 15, when the general election will be held. That is that the debate about the direction of the new Boston that has already been begun by Mr. King and Mr. Flynn must be kept at the highest level. How would each man go about bettering the city's neighborhoods? What should be done to improve schools and city finances?

Each candidate would seem to have an opportunity - and obligation - to broaden his political base. Can Mr. King win the 35 percent or so of the nonminority vote that will be needed to forge a winning coalition? Mr. Flynn, who is a former advocate of the antibusing forces, would seem on safest ground in following through on his promise to run in all parts of the city. In short, this can be a memorable and opportune election for another older city on the leading edge of urban change.

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