Boston, MA

Boston under Raymond Flynn

Boston was ready for change when 16-year incumbent mayor Kevin White stepped down in 1983. South Boston populist Ray Flynn and African American “rainbow coalition” advocate Mel King reached a dead heat in the preliminary mayoral election. Flynn prevailed in the general election, then pursued a neighborhood oriented strategy through nine and one-half years. He emphasized the common interests of working class neighborhoods in re-distributive issues, particularly housing costs, that were escalating, by taxing and otherwise extracting surplus from the city’s booming office and upscale housing development.

Flynn had run as a “neighborhood mayor,” and One of his first policy efforts was to protect or extend rent control; and when he was unable to get this through the city council, he implemented “linkage,” which would attach fees to large office buildings in the downtown and provide an affordable housing trust fund. He succeeded in this, and in a series of related moves to increase the stock of affordable housing. In order to build the new units, his administration urged neighborhood organizations to become property developers. With the linkage funds and other help, the capacities of a number of these groups developed dramatically, some at the cost of their earlier protest functions.

Meanwhile in the neighborhoods there was interest in power sharing. There had been an advisory referendum recommending neighborhood councils, but the sticking point for Flynn was the demand for neighborhood council veto powers over development projects. He vacillated and ultimately withdrew support for the veto in one case; and later did not support a Coalition for Community Control of Development (CCCD) representing a wide and multiracial swath of the city, that sought at least a degree of control.


Menino’s Mayoralty   1993-2013

Flynn resigned the mayoralty in 1993 to become Ambassador  to the Vatican, and soon faded from public life.  His successor was city council member Tom Menino who, ensconced in the successor mayoralty for two decades and distancing himself from Flynn, nevertheless sought to institutionalize, if not improve on some of the housing initiatives he inherited. His less intense but sustained support over a long period allowed neighborhood developers to make headway with a stable city hall. The linkage provisions continued to divert investment funds into the affordable housing trust fund, and Menino extended inclusionary zoning — an informal “voluntary” policy under Flynn — by a series of Boston IDP ExecutiveOrders [Menino] 2000 as an “inclusionary development program” (IDP) applying generally to neighborhood residential projects.  In 2006 the program got mild approval from the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC, Building Better), finding the city’s production of affordable units relatively modest compared to other cities (121 per year) and falling behind rising costs, while the city lost 18 percent of its population in the 18-34 age cohort in 2000-2004.  By 2013, as Menino was leaving office, the city was growing again; over the longer term it was both diversifying and gentrifying.  Waves of immigration had made Boston a “majority-minority city” after 2000, but prices continued to escalate.


The collection reflects research and interviews done by Pierre Clavel and Ken Reardon between 1986 and 2004 and a substantial number of interview transcripts, documents, press clippings, and articles that were projected for indexing in 2006.  More recent items have been supplied by Aspasia Xypolia.

There is a dearth of book-length accounts of Flynn’s mayoralty. “Who Rules Boston” (1984), produced by the local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, gives an interesting perspective on the hopes of a segment of activists, some of whom later became active in the Flynn administration. There is an extensive series of articles by Peter Dreier, who was Flynn’s Director of Housing – we have attached his “Ray Flynn’s Legacy,” National Civic Review, 1993; and the best critical piece — Marie Kennedy, Chris Tilly, and Mauricio Gaston, “Transformative Populism and the Development of a Community of Color” in Dilemmas in Activism: Class, Community and the Politics of Local Mobilization, edited by Joseph Kling and Prudence Posner. Philadelphia: Temple University Press (1990).  On Menino’s housing policies, see  Aspasia Xypolia. Investing (in) Equity: How Can Urban Development Internalize Social Cost?  MCP Thesis,  Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, May 19, 2011; and for a (partly) critical evaluation, see Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, Building Better: Recommendations for Boston’s Inclusionary Development Policy (May 2006).  On a (unique) neighborhood story, see Peter Medoff and Holly Sklar,   Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood (Boston: South End Press, 1994).


Documents, Links, and Images

  • Ray Flynn’s Legacy: American Cities and the Progressive Agenda, Peter Dreier, 1993 (PDF: 1.3 MB)
  • Transformative Populism and the Development of Community of Color, Marie Kennedy and Chris Tilly, with Mauricio Gaston, 1990 (PDF: 1.1 MB)
  • Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, Building Better: Recommendations for Boston’s Inclusionary Development Policy (May 2006).
  •  City of Boston, An Order Relative to Affordable Housing. ExecutiveOrders of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, February 29, 2000.
  •  Boston Redevelopment Authority, BRA Inclusionary Developemnt Program, Inclusionary Development Funding Boston – IDP Guidelines, July 2009.




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