^ to the levers of power : Mel King standing with Marty Walsh
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On Wednesday, Mel King, grand man of the Old Left, endorsed Marty Walsh for Mayor at a press conference in the South End. Joining him was former State Representative Royal Bolling, Jr, of Grove Hall, as well as Felix G. Arroyo and John F. Barros. All was friendly; all joined in a ring of hands as King declared that “I stand with Walsh” and “there’s a new rainbow coalition !” It was a moving scene. At age 85 King won’t have too many more such moments; but he is well entitled to this one. Thirty years ago he himself was in a Mayoral Final versus South Boston’s Ray Flynn…
Thirty years ago ! King’s history in Boston politics goes farther back than that. Like Walsh, he was a State Representative. Before that, he was a very vocal, confrontational activist, of a type then common, brought to prominence in the late 1960s by President Lyndon Johnson’s Anti-poverty program. There was lots of money in that program, and a great deal of community planning power — the Model Cities Program overlapped and abetted it — and King was at its center along with activists gentler and, it has to be said, more lastingly effective. Yet effective or not, King drew a following — devoted — on the Left and the Far Left, and this he kept intact, it following him into that 1983 Mayor election in which he lost badly, like Barry Goldwater an ideologue before his time.
Would it be too melodramatic to say that King’s time was yesterday’s press conference ? This was the not the first occasion that Mel King has endorsed a candidate from a constituency not close to his own — in 2009 he and Ray Flynn held a joint endorsement conference for Mike Flaherty; but that was a challenge to an entrenched incumbent, one whom King — and Flynn — both felt had overstayed his time or forgotten “the people.” This time King was endorsing in an open election : endorsing the candidate of established power. So the question presses for an answer : why did he do it ?
One is tempted to conclude that, as Walsh has successfully coalesced all the strands of Boston’s Labor Left, so King the Old Left icon simply joined the party — gave it his imprimatur, as it were. That’s the obvious answer. i think it’s the wrong answer.
For King, the Left is oratory. His objective has always been something else : get people of color to the levers of power. For King, the Left is a means to pry those levers away from the established forces. And Marty Walsh has finally been revealed, this week, not as “the union guy” (though he Is that) but as the quintessential levers of power candidate. The BRA insider candidate. The candidate of developers needing Building Trades union laborers, multi-million dollar money deals, zoning persuasiveness, and planning clout.
Thus the endorsement. The levers of power now reach out from Walsh to King and his fellow seekers of the elvers.
I do not mean to suggest that for King, union solidarity and power to the workers do not matter. They’re part of his life mission.
Prior to the Primary, King was closest to Charles Clemons, a radio station owner whose economic views aren’t much different from Herman Cain’s. King did not support Felix Arroyo — though 30 years ago he and Arroyo’s father Felix D. Arroyo were strong allies — nor did he support John Barros or Charlotte Golar-Richie. It is simple to figure out why : Clemons’s radio station is a lever of power. All media are levers of might. Barros, Arroyo, and Golar-Richie had none, or lesser such levers. Thus King’s support for Clemons, a candidate who was not going to get to the Final in any scenario. King seemed to be saying that he’d prefer to stand by a lever of power that he could count on rather than chance things with the other three.
The Primary proved his skepticism correct : none of the three made it into the Final. King was now free to choose a candidate on better odds : one of the finalists WOULD win. For an entire month he did not choose. But then came polls showing that the wind was blowing in the Walsh direction, and doing so because Walsh’s campaign was wielding goliath-an levers of Hulk power :
$ 2,400,000 — and counting — of special interest money is one hell of a power lever !
King’s choice was thus a simple one, and the man who made his reputation on confronting Irish politcians from the seaside Wards joined hands with one in a “new rainbow coalition.”
^ high point of a thirty-plus year career in Irish Democratic Boston politics : Tom Keady praying that this is not just an illusion
And, symbol of the power levers thus levered, there was Walsh’s reported svengali, Tom Keady — now Boston college’s Director of Development, but long known to me from a time when, as a young political, he worked for then Speaker of the house Tip O’Neill, whose Congressional District included Keady’s home precinct in Brighton’s Ward 22.
Not for himself, at age 85, did King link to Walsh power.This was done, rather, for the next generation of King people. It was a gift from the Grand Old Man of “Arise Ye and take what is rightfully yours.” As such, it is likely to be a powerful endorsement, if it hasn’t come too late in the race in which the tide seems to have already turned..
— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere