Running a city: 100 days with Ray Flynn
Boston — Cities are just cities, made of iron and stone. Ours isn't just a city; it's always been our home, Where no one is a stranger and no one stands alone.
THESE are the first three lines of a song composed by Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, his 10-year-old daughter Nancy, and a family friend one quiet afternoon last December. In some ways, it expresses the philosophy of the city's new administration.
Mayor Flynn, now nearing his 100th day at the municipal helm, has brought to the job a spirit of unbridled enthusiasm and a pride in Boston and what it can be.
Few Hub mayors, in recent decades at least, have been more involved than Flynn in overseeing the delivery of essential city services. Minutes after Flynn was inaugurated on Jan. 2, a fire broke out at the new Westin Hotel in Copley Square. The new mayor rushed there from the Wang Center to see what could be done.
One Sunday evening several weeks later, Flynn heard a report on police radio that a rock had been thrown through the window in the home of a black family in Dorchester. He rushed to there to offer his sympathy and served notice that such racially motivated incidents would not be tolerated in the city.
During last week's blizzard, Mayor Flynn spent much of the night riding snow plows to watch crews clear the streets and to keep abreast of problems they encountered keeping roadways open.
Another evening, the Boston chief executive accompanied patrolmen in a police cruiser.
''I have a tremendous amount of energy and I hope to continue going out doing things,'' says Flynn, adding that he finds his job exciting because it provides opportunities to ''help a lot of people.
''Some might question whether this is an effective and prudent use of my time ,'' Flynn concedes. The mayor himself even laments ''there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done.'' (He also likes to jog five to 10 miles each morning.)
But Flynn says he believes his on-the-spot activities are ''very important'' because they help ''boost morale in the city work force.'' Police officers, firefighters, public works employees, and most other Boston workers are dedicated and ''want to do a better job,'' he says.
Services like the ''pothole hot line,'' which Flynn established, help people to ''take greater pride in their job, take pride in their city, and take pride in their city government.'' Through the hot line, hundreds of gaping holes have been reported and quickly repaired, he adds.
Evidently, Flynn is a mayor who loves his job - and who seems to take his campaign promises seriously. So far, his administration is abiding by its watchword - ''openness.'' But, for skeptics, there's more evidence:
In early February, the mayor launched a series of neighborhood meetings, which he attends to listen to concerns of local residents. So far, these informal sessions have been held in Mission Hill, Charlestown, East Boston, Allston-Brighton, Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury, and Roslindale. Others are scheduled later this month in Hyde Park, the Back Bay, and his native South Boston.
Starting in late summer, Flynn plans follow-up visits to each of the neighborhoods to let residents know what is being done to respond to community problems.
Sometimes the mayor's interest in Boston takes him outside city limits. He says he is working to forge stronger links with suburbs and their residents, meeting with community leaders to explain his administration's position on issues that affect the metropolitan area. At meetings in Quincy and Braintree he urged South Shore residents to commute to Boston via mass transit during reconstruction of the Southeast Expressway.
Mayor Flynn is no stranger on Beacon Hill, either.
He has met several times with state lawmakers, instead of depending on lobbyists to do the city administration's bidding in the Massachusetts legislature. It's too early to gauge how successful these face-to-face efforts will be, but Flynn described a recent lawmaker briefing as ''a very thorough, honest, and above-board discussion of city finances.'' The proposal in question, involving a municipal surcharge on parking fees within Boston, has since been endorsed overwhelmingly by the Joint Legislative Committee on Taxation.
Flynn - who often works a 16-hour day - is clearly the most populist chief executive Boston has known since the colorful James Michael Curley served in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. Many City Hall observers, including Boston activist Thomas Moccia of Roslindale, give Flynn high marks for ''striving to return to the people a sense that there is somebody in the mayor's office who really cares about them - who is identifiable, accessible, and responsive.''
However, Mr. Moccia and others like Samuel Tyler, executive director of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, are apprehensive about Flynn's ability to implement ''necessary cost controls to meet the projected $20 million to $30 million city budget deficit this year and the possibility of an even larger one the next.''
Flynn has already tightened the belt around City Hall's middle. Since the first of the year, more than 250 jobs have been cut and several city agencies - like the Office of Policy Management - have been abolished.
His next move is to put the finishing touches on the city's spending package for the 12 months beginning July 1. While declining to specify what economies will be proposed in the budget (which must be submitted to the City Council by Wednesday), Mayor Flynn makes it clear that most municipal agencies - with a few exceptions such as fire and police - should expect no more than funding at this year's level.
In addition, he warns, it will be necessary to reduce personnel, prune several agencies, and cut back on ''nonessential'' programs to put Boston on solid financial footing. The mayor says his ''first and foremost obligation'' is fiscal soundness.
In recent weeks, Flynn has been out to convince the investment community that Boston's fiscal outlook is solid. His goal is ''to establish a strong and sound financial credibility'' in the bond market and with the state legislature. In the past 10 days, the mayor has met with bank officials in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and with New York municipal credit-rating firms.
''We want everyone to know what the city finances are all about. There are no secret accounts, no mystery money, and what you see is what there is,'' Flynn says.
Aside from Boston's immediate fiscal dilemma, the other problem nagging at Flynn is the battle over Police Department leadership. A major disappointment of the new mayor has been his failure to persuade Police Commissioner Joseph M. Jordan to step down.
''The people of Boston voted for a very fundamental change in city government , and I want a police commissioner who is going to reflect that,'' he explains.
What Bostonians want are people in government who ''are going to address the issue of violence against women and crimes against the elderly.'' The mayor says he would like to see women hold positions of authority on the police force and wants ''minorities (to be) well-represented within the police hierarchy.''
He says he wants the department to focus on ridding the city of rape, prostitution, and ''racial harassment.''
The Flynn philosophy, so conspicuous in his approach to steering the city, is one free of class distinction, dedicated to providing equal opportunities for all citizens regardless of sex, income level, race, or ethnic background. To date, Flynn's other accomplishments include:
* Opening the Parkman House, the city's elegant mansion overlooking Boston Common, to residents other than the political or social elite. Two low-income families, forced from their dwelling when the heat was shut off in the dead of winter, lived there temporarily. And the Boys Club and other groups have shared their hospitality.
* Sitting in on Boston School Committee meetings. As he promised in last fall's election, Mayor Flynn has expanded his role to ex-officio member of the committee.
* Orchestrating a citywide cleanup drive this spring. More than $140,000 have been raised in private funds to clear litter off streets and vacant lots, says Flynn.
* Doubling the number of beds for the homeless.
* Negotiating an agreement with New England Mutual Life Insurance Company. Half the permanent jobs in the firm's multimillion-dollar office and retail project near Copley Square will be reserved for Bostonians.
''People are beginning to see that what's happening in Boston is a real coming together,'' the mayor says. He sees ''a new spirit, a new awareness, and people feel good about it.''