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The People's Mayor: Looking Back at the Flynn Years

NO Boston mayor in the past half-century has been more neighborhood-oriented than Raymond Flynn. In his 9-1/2 years at City Hall he has directed his attention and the city's resources toward improving life for its citizens.

Unlike predecessors John Hynes, John Collins, and Kevin White, who concentrated on changing the physical face of Boston with new buildings, Mayor Flynn has focused on improving municipal services and on people things like street lighting and playgrounds.

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His hands-on style - riding snowplows, dropping in on community meetings, watching a sand-lot baseball game - has made him one of the most visible mayors in Boston history. There is hardly a block in the city's 47 square miles that Flynn has not trod.

How well he has met the city's challenges is debatable. So, too, are the benefits of his considerable efforts.

For instance, what might have been the most significant and lasting Flynn legacy, a vastly upgraded Boston school system, appears to be facing an uncertain future. He got the appointed school board he wanted, but after 18 months, it's unclear what progress it has made toward bringing quality public education to the city.

This has to disappoint the mayor as he prepares to leave the city he has served for the past 22 years, beginning in the state House of Representatives.

Were the mayor to have completed his term, it is not clear what further he might have accomplished, since municipal funds are increasingly hard to come by in an already full city budget.

Yet while it would be a mistake to suggest Boston has been free of racial tensions during Flynn's years as mayor, his leadership has addressed the needs of minorities, including not only blacks but the fast-growing Hispanic and Asian populations. But the problem lingers.

Also a continuing problem is crime and how to ensure maximum public safety in the neighborhoods, especially those in which drugs and guns have undermined the social fabric.

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Being a loyal Democrat, Flynn tends to blame most of the city's problems on insufficient funds from Beacon Hill and the Republican administration of Gov. William Weld. The mayor carefully ignores in such criticism the overwhelming Democratic majorities in both branches of the Massachusetts legislature, which control state appropriations as much as the governor.

Similarly when Republicans Reagan and Bush were in the White House, they were the frequent Flynn targets for not providing the federal funds that the mayor felt the cities needed to provide essential services.

In his new post as ambassador to the Vatican, Flynn says he intends to play a role in dealing with world problems such as poverty, homelessness, and social injustice.

But If things don't work out, how long he will remain at the Vatican post? That may be a big part of the Flynn agenda, since he says he has no intention of making the Boston mayoral chair his last public post. Although undefined, Flynn's long-range goal is to again be a major player on a political stage somewhere.

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