In his second run for mayor of Boston in 1983, former state representative Mel King finished second in the preliminary election, but then lost to Raymond Flynn in the final. That remains the top performance by a black mayoral candidate in the city. For this year’s mayoral election, King currently supports Charles Clemons, the African-American cofounder of a low-power radio station who launched his campaign more than a year ago. Here, King, 84, discusses what the city needs from its next mayor and what candidates must do to win. This interview has been edited and condensed.
There is a large field of candidates just like in 1983. Who is likely to make it into the final?
Folks who have a plan and who are talking about making sure that every parcel in the city going for housing has [equal] access for residents: one-third market[-rate units], one-third moderate, one-third affordable. We have to stop this idea that we can’t all live together.
Folks have to ask themselves why they are running and why they wouldn’t challenge the mayor and his policies and practices, and what they feel we should expect is going to be different [if they are elected mayor]. For me, there’s a real concern that they weren’t willing to come out running for mayor before the mayor decided not to. The first time I ran [in 1979], there was a sitting mayor.
What issues do you think candidates should be addressing?
I believe, in terms of jobs and city resources, there really has to be serious enforcement of the Boston Residents Jobs program [designed to increase the numbers of city residents, workers of color, and women hired for city-funded construction projects]. And police, with all this construction going on, are able to turn that into more income because they’re on the street to monitor traffic. Do the mostly women who guide our most valuable resource — our [school]children — get the same pay for that? There’s got to be some way to move in the direction that says we want a fairer distribution of resources.
I think that the PILOT [payments in lieu of taxes from nonprofits] program ought to be distributed through neighborhoods, so they can use it for economic development. The focus is not on the neighborhoods. It’s on downtown. The focus is not on the folks most in need.
The other thing has to do with the schools. I’m baffled by a mayor asking for charter schools. People running for office have to really come up with a way to put a system in place that gives every child what they deserve — a top quality learning experience.
What do candidates have to do to build a winning campaign?
I’m not going to downplay the value of money to buy ads. Door-knocking, that is going to make a difference. Those folks who can put together a constituent base, do some polling, are very clear about the message, and can rally the most vulnerable to come out and vote [will be viable].
You said recently that it’s the next mayor’s agenda that matters, not the winner’s color. Only white men have been mayor of Boston. In a democracy, isn’t it important for others to share in that office’s power?
I want to see a different perspective in the mayor’s office. I’d love to see a person of color, a woman, in the office, because we’re into the image, the role model aspect of it, which I very much believe in.
Do you think the city is ready for a mayor of color?
I believe the city is ready for a mayor who can bring people together and understands the importance of the distribution of resources so that all the gifts are shared, and [who] will change the way we see each other. A person who can campaign on that basis can win, will win, should win.
Kenneth J. Cooper, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former Boston Globe staffer, is a freelancer based in Boston.