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OPINION

‘Save the city’ mission looks like an effort to save old Boston

PR executive George Regan provided no specifics about what might be collapsing. But what has collapsed is the power of white men. Still, there are grounds for serious debate about the city’s future. But the way this story came out undercuts those legitimate concerns.

What started out as a fundraiser and birthday party — to be hosted by PR executive George Regan at his Mashpee home — instead turned into a botched plot to launch a “3-year mission to save the City of Boston from the negative impacts of the ultra-progressives policies (that) dominate the current City Council and current administration of Boston City Hall.”John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Sorry, George. No one believes the secretary did it on her own. But everyone understands why you would want to blame someone else.

What started out as a fundraiser for City Council President Ed Flynn and a party to celebrate the 84th birthday of his father, former mayor Ray Flynn — to be hosted by PR executive George Regan at his Mashpee home — instead turned into a botched plot to launch a “3-year mission to save the City of Boston from the negative impacts of the ultra-progressives policies [that] dominate the current City Council and current administration at Boston City Hall.”

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That “save the city” missive was sent via email to the Dorchester Reporter ahead of the scheduled July 22 fundraising bash by what the newspaper described as “the public relations company owned by” Regan. When managing editor Gintautas Dumcius asked Regan about it, he blamed his secretary and said there was no organized coalition. Meanwhile, elected officials who, according to the email, were said to be attending, such as city councilors Michael Flaherty and Erin Murphy, quickly distanced themselves from the event. After all, who would want to be so openly on the wrong side of Mayor Michelle Wu? Or on the wrong side of the new, more diverse Boston that is being celebrated with the return of the NAACP convention to this city after 40 years?

Beyond the town’s usual delight in any gossip involving Regan and his tactics, why does this matter? Because the “3-year mission to save the city of Boston” also looked like an effort by old, white Boston to reclaim ownership of a city that has changed greatly since Kevin White was mayor and Regan worked as his press secretary. Wu is the first woman and person of color elected to the mayor’s office and the city councilors behind those “ultra-progressive policies” are Black and Latino. As state Senator Lydia Edwards, a former Boston City Council member and the first person of color to represent her district on Beacon Hill, told me, “I can feel a growing sense of anger. It’s part grief for an old, familiar Boston, part fear for how change is happening, and part resentment for equity and inclusion that doesn’t seem to value their lived experience, especially if they are working class and white.”

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When I asked Regan about his self-proclaimed mission to save the city, his office issued a statement that said, “There is no PAC or plan to change the city’s leadership. There is only an idea to address the city’s many challenges by building stronger bridges between elected officials and the residents of Boston.”

In an interview, Regan said his secretary “misinterpreted” something, which he did not specify. His problem is not with Wu, he added, but with certain members of the City Council, such as Ricardo Arroyo and Kendra Lara, who have recently come under fire for ethical missteps and other misconduct. Regan also told me his discontent has nothing to do with “Black, brown, and white” but about what he sees as a city “on the verge of collapsing.”

Regan provided no further specifics about what might be collapsing. But what has collapsed is the power of white men. Still, there are grounds for serious debate about the city’s future. The misconduct of individual council members and the vicious council infighting are fair game for press scrutiny and challengers. Whether City Hall is tilting too far left is also open to discussion. But the way this story came out undercuts those legitimate concerns. It also undercuts what might have been a mayoral trial balloon for Ed Flynn. He has nearly $600,000 in his campaign finance account, no opponent for his council seat, and a family name connected to old South Boston but also associated with building bridges to new Boston.

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His father, Ray Flynn, forged a relationship with the rival he beat to win the mayor’s office: the late Mel King, who was the first Black mayoral candidate to reach a final election. As mayor, Ray Flynn also worked hard to put the fierce divisions of school desegregation behind Boston. As city council president, Ed Flynn has also said he is trying to bring people together, but that has been difficult with an ornery council whose votes and assorted controversies, such as the fight over redistricting, often break down along racial lines.

Regan said he supports Ed Flynn as council president, and that’s why he hosted the fundraiser. “I’m 100 percent behind him. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Ray Flynn was one of the best mayors this city ever had,” Regan said.

Those words suggest that while there might not yet be a specific “PAC or plan to change the city’s leadership,” there is at least the glimmer of a campaign to do just that. And Regan’s fingerprints — not his secretary’s — are on it.

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Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her @joan_vennochi.