Secession scare has Boston mayor mending fences with blacks. `Mandela' referendum failed at polls but stirs City Hall action

Mayor Raymond L. Flynn is feeling a lot of heat from Boston's black community these days. So with the prospect of a reelection campaign next year, the mayor has been spending a lot of time in the city's predominantly black Roxbury section. Recent efforts on his part helped defeat a nonbinding referendum on the ballot Nov. 4 that sought to carve a separate community named Mandela out of Boston.

``My administration has hired 40 percent minority employees since I took office in 1984,'' the mayor says. ``My goal is to bring the peoples of Boston together,'' he told a recent gathering of black Bostonians. Although the Mandela proposal, named for South African black dissidents Nelson and Winnie Mandela, lost by 3 to 1, it remains a prime topic, especially in the black community.

Flynn received many black votes when he ran for mayor in 1983, but not as many as he would normally have expected, because he faced black candidate Melvin H. King in the final runoff.

``I support Mandela,'' says former state Representative King, who was the first black to be a finalist for mayor. ``Our protest vote is our message to ... keep on pushing,'' says King, who will likely oppose Flynn again next year. ``We can't allow gentrification to displace us in our own communities.''

Flynn extols the virtues of a multicultural, multiracial city today much as he did in his winning campaign against Mr. King. ``It's imperative that we ... [bring] the private sector and the city's neighborhoods together,'' the mayor told a recent breakfast meeting of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

The idea of Mandela was initiated by Anthony Jones and Curtis Davis, who organized the Greater Roxbury Incorporation Project (GRIP) to advocate secession. These two young college-trained blacks urged the move as a solution to a running conflict between City Hall and black community leaders over many local issues. Among them is the proposed development of Roxbury after completion next spring of an $800 million transit-line relocation project. The part of Boston's elevated rail line that runs through the community will be demolished as a result, leaving Roxbury with some prime property.

``Mayor Flynn makes many promises, but we see little evidence of concrete action,'' Jones declared during his push for Mandela. ``We have no control, no input into the decisionmaking process.... Sure, we lost the election,'' he says now. ``But we garnered 25 percent of the vote with an idea we introduced only a year ago. ...''

``The mayor promised us much, but not one spade of earth has been dug to construct municipal facilities promised Roxbury,'' says recently reelected state Rep. Gloria Fox of Roxbury, one of three state legislators who backed the Mandela referendum.

Three factors helped Flynn defeat the Mandela referendum: his appearances in the black community; the support of black ministers; and his advocacy of affordable housing and jobs and job training.

And these continuing developments are helping to boost the mayor's credibility among Boston blacks:

A $410 million program of new public-private investment in Roxbury, 1985-90, starting with a $203 million ``Parcel 18'' development, with 30 percent minority ownership.

Formation of a coalition of 30 minority business enterprises to develop a $400 million project downtown and the Parcel 18 package in Roxbury.

A 121-unit mixed-income, mixed-use apartment complex announced as a joint venture of a black church and two black developers with the Boston Investment and Development Company.

Ground broken for new police station in Mattapan.

``Our city's commitment to unity was tested election day,'' Flynn says. ``We can't afford to revert to our racial climate of the '70s.''

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