Racial healing

By ADAM REILLY  |  November 10, 2008

FLYNN: It seems to me there's more violence now than there ever was before.

KING: Oh, yes.

FLYNN: That's the point, right? It's just amazing to me that so many of these young kids, carrying guns, getting involved in shootings and violence — people are desensitized.

KING: Absolutely. How do you not get desensitized when you have a president who jumps on a ship, and says, "Bring 'em on," and all that kind of stuff? You have it at that level, and for me, it gets translated into the kind of climate that we have right now.

081107_kingflynn2_main
TOUGH GENTLEMEN: The potentially explosive 1983 mayoral match-up became a model of respect and restraint.

Let's revisit the 1983 mayor's race. Looking back, was it as significant as it seemed at the time?
FLYNN:
That election, I maintain, was the greatest election in the history of Boston.

Would you agree?
KING: Well, he won. [Laughs]

FLYNN: From the standpoint of people turning out to vote, it was a great election. I was campaigning in Brighton one night, driving by the firehouse — it was 10 o'clock at night, and the crowd was lined up for hundreds of feet. They were registering to vote. I jumped out of the car, I ran into the Dunkin' Donuts, and I bought them all coffee. The problem was, they were all voting for you.

KING: That's no problem. [Laughs]

Did you feel at the time like you were participating in something historic?
KING: Well, with the first African-American having a chance to be the mayor, you had a sense of some historic meaning swirling around the campaign.

FLYNN: I was the first one from South Boston to be nominated to be mayor of Boston. We grew up believing that no one from South Boston could get elected mayor, because so many had tried. There was an enormous amount of pride on both sides, you know?

The campaign was conducted in such a civil and gentlemanly way. We were tough, there's no question about that. We're two tough guys. We went at each other pretty good. But it never became personal, and it was respectful, and that made it much easier to govern. If it was a contentious campaign, I wouldn't have been able to govern. Instead, I was able to deal with the race issue, deal with economic disparity, deal with social and economic justice.

KING: He hired a number of people who'd worked in the campaign, and who I'd worked with around community-development stuff, and through the things we were doing at MIT [where King ran the Community Fellows Program in the Urban Studies and Planning department]. Folks would come to me and say, "I have a chance to go work for the mayor." I'd say, "Just make him do the kind of things we would do."

FLYNN: I had lot of the community activists. I'd been a citywide councilor and had a citywide base. I worked with the community schools, community policing, environmental issues, neighborhood issues that don't get a lot of attention. I didn't get any black votes to speak of, but if I weren't running against him, I would have gotten a good rash of those votes. All these guys that I played ball with all my life, at the Roxbury Boys Club and the South End Boys Club — they would have been supporting me, working for me, helping me.

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