POPULAR Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn begins his eighth year in office facing some of the most serious challenges of his two-term career. With looming budget cuts, a record number of homicides in the city last year, and the Boston School Committee in disarray, the mayor's work won't be easy.
To make matters worse, the economic outlook is bleak. Boston is partaking of the regional recession, with rising unemployment and shrinking city revenues.
``Frankly, it's not going to be much fun being mayor,'' says Samuel Tyler, executive director of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-backed city watchdog agency.
Despite all of this, Mayor Flynn could be an easy winner in the November election, since no strong challengers have yet emerged.
Although Flynn has yet to announce his candidacy, observers say it is highly likely, given his popularity. A recent poll of 402 Boston residents by KRC Communications Research of Newton, Mass., showed the mayor viewed favorably by 72 percent of those surveyed.
Flynn, a native of working-class South Boston, has labored hard to keep a high profile. He frequently works long hours, dropping in on a community meeting or a neighborhood pub, or showing up at the scene of a late-night crime.
``He's a blue-collar, down-to-earth mayor,'' says former City Councilor Lawrence DiCara, who ran for mayor in 1983. ``He's very strong. He works at it every day of the week.''
City Councilor at Large Michael McCormack says he is considering running in November, although he acknowledges his changes are slim. One reason is that Flynn has more than $1 million in campaign money already, Mr. McCormack says.
As president of the United States Conference of Mayors this year, Flynn is well respected among the country's big-city chief executives. On the national level he has been a leading advocate for the homeless.
His latest initiative - also on both the state and national levels - is the Competitive Cities Act, a legislative package to help cities economically through tax incentives to businesses.
On the local level, Flynn likes to tout his success in managing city finances, initiating youth programs, and beefing up the police and fire departments.
His financial management abilities will be tested. Last week Flynn aides warned that virtually every city department will be cut, with the possibility of 350 to 450 layoffs. One execption: The mayor has promised not to lay off uniformed police and fire personnel.
Flynn's biggest challenge is to maintain his popularity while keeping city costs down, say observers. Councilor McCormack says Flynn faces the same fate as former Gov. Michael Dukakis (D), who was widely criticized for the state's faltering economy and budget crisis.
Others point to the mayor's success in bringing down the $40 million deficit he faced in 1984, his first year in office. Within two years, the budget was balanced and has remained so every year since. Robert Ciolek, acting director of administrative services, says Flynn, now working with 40 fewer employees, has made it a priority to keep costs down.
But that has not been true for the troubled school system, another pressing city issue. The Boston School Committee, struggling with an $8 million deficit, has been widely criticized for failing in its 10-month search to find a new school superintendent.
Flynn is pushing legislation to abolish the 13-member committee, putting him in charge of picking a superintendent and managing the schools. But the plan is controversial - particularly within the minority community, which accounts for 75 percent of the student body.
``The black community says, `Here we finally have people who are elected officials in the school committee and you're going to eliminate that representative system', '' says Joseph Slavet, senior associate of the John W. McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Black leaders also say Flynn has not shown enough commitment to solving inner-city poverty and violence.