Helpful hint for next Boston mayor: mend fences with State House
Boston's red-brick City Hall and the gold-domed Massachusetts State House are only a few short blocks apart, but sometimes that distance seems like miles. In recent years particularly, the lack of communication between the two seats of government has been all too evident.
Certainly, political rivalries between Boston's Mayor Kevin H. White and state lawmakers who represent the city have contributed substantially to this situation. It would be simplistic, however, not to recognize that other - and possibly more deep-seated - factors are involved.
One of these is the all-too-prevalent tendency at City Hall, by the mayor and within the City Council, to make Beacon Hill legislators the whipping boy for a lack of action on various city problems.
Much, if not all, of last year's difficulty in gaining passage of a home-rule petition to ease Boston's fiscal woes could have been averted had the powers-that-be at City Hall and the State House gotten together before pride of authorship prevented finding solutions.
While clearly it is the prerogative of the mayor and City Council to initiate any proposal, such efforts stand little chance without support from the state Legislature, especially legislators who represent the Hub.
Try as hard as they did to get the Legislature to go along with their financial package, Mayor White and the City Council had little choice but to accept some Beacon Hill fine-tuning.
Part of the problem was, and perhaps still is, the feeling among some legislators from other areas (especially those outside of Greater Boston) that too much state aid goes to the capital city. This sentiment might be considerably lessened by a bit more appreciation from City Hall. What may be most needed here is the building of some solid bridges of understanding between Boston's mayor and individual state legislators.
Progress may be just ahead, regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 15 mayoral election. Raymond L. Flynn and Melvin H. King, the two contestants for the Hub's executive seat, both are former state representatives who certainly know their way around Beacon Hill.
Instead of waiting for some problem requiring legislative help to arise, the next occupant of the mayoral chair might well take a leaf from the book of one of his predecessors, John F. Collins. During Mayor Collins's eight-year regime, he met regularly with small groups of senators and representatives.
These weekly noontime ''sandwich sessions'' provided the Boston mayor an opportunity to brief his guests on various matters, including what impact any pending legislation might have on his city. These meetings also kept the mayor in touch with individual lawmakers and their views, especially on matters of common concern.
While some state lawmakers boycotted the small get-togethers, most of the 40 senators and 140 representatives from the commonwealth attended at least one informal rap session in the mayor's office. Although it is difficult to assess how well this approach helped Collins gain passage for various measures, it should be noted that his Beacon Hill batting average was significantly higher than that of his successor, Mayor White.
The idea of reviving the luncheons, even on a bring-your-own-sandwich basis, might not be the best arrangement for 1984. But this, or something like it, could keep important lines of communication open.
Clearly, a mutual admiration society is not what is needed, but rather a continuing dialogue on Boston problems and potential state-aided solutions. Thus , to whatever extent possible, the next mayor should become more directly involved in selling his proposals and rely less on city lobbyists. In some instances, it would be helpful to get some input, especially from members of the Boston delegation in the Senate and House, before filing any legislation that might be particularly contro-versial.
While neither Mr. King nor Mr. Flynn appear to have any intention of going to battle with the state Legislature, whoever becomes the next mayor may have little choice but to engage in some friendly political arm-twisting with former colleagues at the State House.
One of the first of these hard-push pursuits could come over the issue of expanding the city's tax base, which might include some type of commuter levy. (So far, though, neither candidate has embraced the idea.)
But to be effective on Beacon Hill, the incoming mayor can hardly expect to get too far without an occasional helping hand from the Massachusetts head of state.
One of the reasons Mayor White has had problems getting what he wanted, the way he wanted it, may be an all-too-conspicuous lack of rapport between he and former Gov. Edward J. King. By contrast, the mayor and Gov. Michael S. Dukakis got along famously during Mr. Dukakis's first term, from 1974 to 1978. And, too, during the nine months since Dukakis returned to the Bay State helm, there has been no hint of disagreement, although the two governmental leaders could hardly be considered staunch pals.
Although neither mayoral candidate has been at all close politically to Dukakis, both King and Flynn, like the governor, are Democrats. More important, it is unrealistic to suggest that the head of state would be any less cooperative in working with City Hall once a new administration takes over.
This is not to suggest that the Boston's next chief executive is sure to have the governor's wholehearted backing for his every proposal. What he probably will have is a sympathetic listener, although not necessarily a staunch political ally.