Boston neighborhoods take center stage as Flynn picks up the mayoral reins

History-drenched Boston is on the threshold of a new era, one dedicated more to neighborhoods than to a changing downtown skyline. The Jan. 2 passing of the city's executive reins from Kevin H. White to Raymond L. Flynn has brought to the city what appears to be a new style of administration. The new mayor may devote less attention to ceremony and more to municipal services.

Both the new mayor and his predecessor have a few things in common, such as being Democrats and of Irish ancestry. But they are anything but look-alikes in their approach to government.

The Williams College-educated former mayor and lawyer, whose father and grandfather both served before him in municipal government (on City Council), is a political liberal.

By contrast, Mayor Flynn is a conservative, a one-time college basketball star, and the son of a longshoreman and a cleaning woman.

Mr. White committed considerable energies throughout his 16-year municipal reign to buffing and polishing Boston's image as a seat of culture largely free from the problems of poverty and blight that beset large older cities.

Mayor Flynn, on the other hand, indicates less concern with such pursuits and instead is focusing efforts on other areas such as community improvements, housing, and schools.

The new chief executive makes it clear he intends to be a mayor of all the people and not aligned to any special interest. In articulating his open-door policy he assured fellow Bostonians:

''Should you ever feel the need, know that there will be a welcome sign at the office of the mayor where you will be received with respect, served graciously by the staff, and will walk away with the feeling, I hope, that city hall is your building and the people whose salaries you pay there really do work for you.''

Unlike Mayor White, who relied strongly on various top level aides to oversee the day-to-day operations of city programs, Mayor Flynn aims to be in close touch, if not directly involved, in all areas of municipal responsibility.

He is seeking to expand the mayoral role to include an ex-officio seat on the Boston School Committee, an elective panel newly expanded from five to thirteen seats, including nine from the neighborhoods.

In his inaugural message, the new mayor pledged commitment to providing a school system worthy of the children of Boston.

Achieving the goal could pose a major challenge since municipal coffers, which are all but empty, may not provide much increased funding.

There is, therefore, a vexing question of how to come up with some $17 million to pay the first year of a teacher compensation boost resulting from lengthy collective bargaining concluded late last month. The new mayor has little interest in the proposed sale of two city-owned off-street parking garages in the downtown section which former Mayor White had favored to bankroll the school contract.

Within the next few weeks, the Flynn administration must effect major economies in operations. The administration faces a budget deficit in excess of

Some of these trims are expected to come through pruning the municipal bureaucracy. More than a few of the several dozen new agencies added during the 16 years of former Mayor White's tenure may be eliminated.

Mayor Flynn and his aides are giving early attention to a substantial number of selective pay raises granted by his predecessor during the latter's final few months in office.

Generous use of patronage was a major criticism of the former administration, some of whose appointees or loyalists were convicted of misconduct.

Even though none of the wrongdoing by various White operatives was ever tied to the mayor, this factor, coupled with the emergence of an increasingly visible and potent political organization strongly committed to the mayor, hardly enhanced his image.

Clearly, no mayor in Boston's history, including the legendary James Michael Curley who also ran the city for four terms, although nonconsecutive ones, had firmer control of the city than Mayor White.

Contributing to the effectiveness of his administration were several generally young and highly motivated idea-oriented aides attracted to the team. Several of these, including US Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts, have since moved on to other positions of responsibility in state or federal government, academia, and private industry.

Extensive involvement of residents of Boston neighborhoods in working with the City Council, school committee, and various municipal agencies has been pledged by the new mayor.

In a somewhat populist vein, Mr. Flynn suggests that in many instances ''people can solve their own problems, often more efficiently and effectively than government bureaucracies. Our theory of government will be trickle up, not trickle down,'' he explains.

Although new construction will continue in the downtown area, where the lion's share of development in the recent past has taken place, the new administration's program embraces a requirement that developers of such commercial projects contribute toward providing housing and other amenities in the neighborhoods.

The new mayor, who comes to the executive chair after six years on the City Council and before that four terms in the state House of Representatives, has pledged community representation on various municipal boards such as zoning and licensing.

As his first official act he issued an executive order guaranteeing women equal job opportunities and pay levels with men within city government.

And the Providence College-educated, lifelong resident of South Boston, a section that saw bitter opposition to forced busing to achieve public school integration, included in his inaugural speech a strong pro-civil rights commitment.

The ''full weight of the city,'' he asserted, ''will be brought down on all those who seek, because of race or color, to deny anyone from any school, from any park, any home, any job in any neighborhood of this city.''

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