City Council President Bill Linehan stands on solid ground in his effort to find a fitting tribute to former Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, a son of South Boston who was one of the city’s most important racial healers: During his nine and a half years as mayor, from 1984 to 1993, Flynn strived to convince a city bruised by the busing crisis of the previous decade that the interests of black and white residents were aligned. He was largely successful — a major accomplishment in itself.
Flynn championed the close-knit values of urban living, in black and white neighborhoods, at a time when most people of means headed quickly for the suburbs. And he gained national recognition for pursuing an unabashedly redistributive agenda amid the conservative Reagan era. One of his prime vehicles was the ground-breaking “linkage” program that required developers of large-scale commercial and institutional properties to pay into a fund to create off-site affordable housing.
As a state representative from South Boston during desegregation, Flynn opposed court-ordered busing on the grounds of parental rights and neighborhood cohesion. But as mayor, he pushed courageously to desegregate the Boston Housing Authority — despite threats from his own neighbors — while appointing record numbers of minority officials. His personal relationships and willingness to intercede in local disputes played a large role in knitting the city together.
Shortly after taking office, Flynn described his job as “building bridges . . . between neighborhoods and downtown, and between neighborhoods and neighborhoods.” An appropriate tribute might be to name a bridge in his honor. Flynn famously judged people by how they treated the poor. Another way to salute his public service might be to attach his name to a site associated with the betterment of the lives of the poor.
By the time he left office to accept President Clinton’s appointment as US ambassador to the Holy See, Flynn was universally applauded. But over time, his image has faded and, at 75, his record is underappreciated. It’s long past time for a public recognition of Flynn’s many contributions.