When I first moved to Boston, I lived on Beacon Hill with two roommates from college. We lived on Grove Street, right up the Hill from Massachusetts General Hospital. We had a fairly large apartment in which we all had our own bedrooms — if you counted the living room as a bedroom. We paid our rent to a landlord with the implausibly perfect-sounding Brahmin name of Sargent Goodchild. I remember he was a good landlord.
We were young and we liked to hang out. For beers and burgers, we went to the Harvard Gardens down on the corner of Grove and Cambridge Streets; for cheap delicious breakfasts, we loved The Paramount on Charles Street. Today, both places, with new owners many times removed, still exist albeit as upscale establishments.
Over the years, the Paramount not only lost the redolence of roach spray, but its most famous patron, Kevin White. When he was Mayor of Boston, White lived a block away from the Paramount. I would see him in there all the time. Running into the Mayor at my neighborhood greasy spoon was the most exciting thing for me, a native New Yorker, because Boston seemed less foreign and scary.
And I liked the Mayor. With his craggy Irish face and casual grace, he looked like my father and he seemed to embody local political panache – especially when he referred to “the shitty of Boston” in his sibilant speaking style. Today you can see a towering memorial to White outside Faneuil Hall and across from City Hall. The statue depicts him in full stride with his suit jacket tossed casually over his shoulder. The tribute seems way out of scale. White was more devilishly elfin than bronze Brobdingnagian. He deserves a monument more classy and subtle.
When I began writing for the Boston Herald American, White called me by name when we ran into each other at the Paramount. I called him “Mayor.” After I wrote a story about White’s famed ability to manipulate the media, he saw the piece as positive. For Kevin White, any press was good press. Even if he didn’t like the story, he would always have the last word. For him, power was absolute and he dealt political payback with stealth severity.
White’s successors, Ray Flynn and Tom Menino, were more thuggish in their dealings. I lived in Washington D.C. during most of the Flynn years, but when I returned to write for the Boston Herald, I would often see him drinking at Foley’s, the bar in the South End (still owned by the same family) where we ink-stained wretches enjoyed a few beers after Thursday night deadline. Only last February, we gave a retirement party at Foley’s for one of my best newspaper friends and Ray Flynn showed up. So did his wife Kathy. Ray – and he was always “Ray,” not “Flynn or “Mayor” — greeted me like an old friend, which I guess I am.
The late Tom Menino had thin skin. He did not take any criticism well. He also seemed obsessive about who voted for him. After I moved out of the city but held on to my condominium, I wanted to continue to vote in the North End. Menino himself told me it was not possible. I always had the sneaking suspicion he, or a loyal aide, looked at my property tax bill to make sure I wasn’t claiming a residency abatement.
Now, forty years after meeting Kevin White, I want to meet a new Mayor for different reasons. I’m no longer a stranger here nor a renter. My roots are deep. I’m over 65, although it galls me to admit it. As a city senior, I don’t want a free lunch or a Christmas sing-a-long. As a taxpayer, I want an affordable city that works. In White’s day, three girls with entry-level jobs could rent an apartment on Beacon Hill. Today, that would be a near-impossible trick.
Mayor Marty Walsh makes a brief appearance in Christopher Columbus Park on Thursday, June 28, at 9:30 a.m. No doubt he will be surrounded by an entourage of coat holders so it will be hard for ordinary citizens to get a word in. If I could, I’d implore Marty – like “Ray,” Marty seems a “Marty” – to stop developer Don Chiafaro’s huge tower planned to rise next to the Aquarium. I’d appeal to him to keep the North End clean and the Harbor accessible. I’d thank him for being anti-Trump. With a twinkle, I’d advise him to smile more because when he does, Walsh actually looks like he enjoys the job.