The measure of a mayor

By TOM SHEEHAN  |  November 14, 2006

Another factor may help to explain White’s refusal to place anyone in Frank’s former position of power: the mayor was reported to be furious with Frank when he departed, viewing it as desertion, an act of treason.  (He refused even to talk with Frank for two years after his departure, Frank once told us).  An extremely possessive boss, White demands devotion and loyalty from his staff members, who fall in and out of favor at a dizzying pace.  “He wants to own his aides body and soul,” said one who left the administration with great bitterness.  “It’s almost like a marriage.” “He’s a very bright, hot lam,” said another who had remained,” and a lot of people get burned.”  Many of those who have departed claim that White has appeared to put more an more importance on loyalty as the years have passed while tolerating less argument from subordinates.  “In the past,” said one former aide, “with each of us representing a different viewpoint, it was brawl all the time. Now you get the impression that he’s become a captive of a small band of like-thinking admirers.”  Which may partly explain the lack of direction and imagination that has characterized White’s third term: not much of a constructive nature is likely to happen when genuine policy debate is not permitted.  Beyond this the third term has been clouded from the outset by the narrowness of White’s re-election victory in 1975, a narrowness that made White’s declining political fortunes only the more obvious.  “There’s an enormous difference,” said Richard Kelliher, head of the Little City Halls program, “between an administration whose leader is perceived to be in the ascendancy and one who is not.”  And White clearly is not.

It was different in the past: White always s had other political goals in mind, and he kept moving toward them.  Long-time associates say that when he became secretary of sate in 1960, he set his sights on the governorship; one suggested that his decision to run for mayor in 1967 was motivated in large part by a desire to prove himself a political heavyweight worthy of serious gubernatorial consideration.  “During his first term as mayor,” said a former aide, “he was running for governor, and during most of the second he was running for national office.”

As mentioned, these hopes went down the drain with busing in 1974, and that disappointment was quickly followed by the brutal 1975 re-election campaign, in which White’s personal integrity was questioned for the first time.  During the race’s final weeks, corruption charges flew almost daily, with the Herald American at the fore, leading paper after paper with anti-White charges in banner headlines.   Almost all of the Herald stories either were baseless or else were dredged-up versions of charges that had been lying around for months or even years.  (Sometimes a bit of both: one rather incomprehensible story referred to a federal probe of unauthorized city expenditures “including public relations, Model Cities and contraceptives.”)  The most important charges surfaced everywhere.  Channel 7 alleged that White intimate Ted Anzalone had pressured real estate developers for $10,000 contributions to White in 1970 at a breakfast at the Ritz.  (Even at the time, the figure was far over the legal limit.)  The Channel 7 story was badly botched, the mayor countered by having his police department whitewash the charges, and a satisfactory version of the truth has never really surface.  The most serious charge of all came from the Globe Spotlight team, which reported that White’s fire commissioner and some of his deputies had pressure firemen for political contributions.  The commissioner was later indicted, but was acquitted.  There were also allegations that White’s Parks Department, under “Tough Tony” Forgione, had dished out contracts to those who contributed to White’s re-election campaigns.  (These charges are only now being investigated, along with others, by a Suffolk County grand jury.)  In all of this, White’s response contributed to his problems: he often scoffed at them, or obfuscated, or countered with half-truths that came back to haunt him.

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