The measure of a mayor

By TOM SHEEHAN  |  November 14, 2006

“One thing I’ve always felt about Kevin White,” said a Boston businessman who once played a role in city government, “is that he has good political instincts, so I’m surprised at these mistakes.  He doesn’t seem to know what’s really going on in his operation, or care.  He acts like he doesn’t want to be mayor, like being mayor isn’t enough for him.”

In a sense, White has acted this way for years: his most productive periods have come when he was most strongly motivated by ambition for other office, whether it was at the State House or in Washington.  “His gubernatorial ambitions were very positive,” said Barney Frank.  “The state was perceived as more liberal, so he took positions that were more liberal.”  Or he allowed Frank to take them for him.  Then, when he was bitten by the national bug in 1972, said former aide, his energy level soared once more.  “Those were productive years in terms of discipline and getting things done,” said the ex-aide.  “He was ascending.  The diversion of national politics meant that Kevin was more enthusiastic, more upbeat.  What ’72-’74 offered him was the opportunity to see himself growing.”

But 1978 hardly offers the same opportunity, and what lies beyond it is no more promising.  “Politically,” said long-time adviser Ed Sullivan, “he’s reached a point where the future is problematic and puzzling.”  If not outright depressing.  Whether he can muster the enthusiasm for a shot at four more years of the same remains to be seen.  At 48, he might feel too young to quit; he may feel, too, that he has no other real career options before him; although he’s a lawyer, he hasn’t practiced in years.  Add to all this the uncertainty of a fledgling grand jury probe into the activities of two of this old stalwarts – former Parks Commissioner Forgione and Real Property boss Joie Prevost – and the future becomes an even larger question mark.

Ultimately, though, White might base his answer on whether he sees any personal growth in his future at City Hall.  “He would always say that without the possibility of growth there’s only death," recalled a former top aide.  “If fate were to enter his living room tonight and say, ‘I’m gonna let you be mayor from now on, but that’s it,’ I think his motivation would evaporate.  I don’t think fate has given him that message, though.  I think he’ll run again.”

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