Kevin White, “Boats in the Hahbah”

| January 29, 2012 | 1 Comment

Bill Black and Kevin White at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston

Kevin White has died.  He was a political colossus in Boston in my formative years.  He had a legendary career, running the gamut from liberal reformer to political boss over the course of his four terms.

Looking back on his time in office, the drama is remarkable.  He was Mayor when Martin Luther King was killed and kept the city from exploding.  In 1972, he was privately selected by George McGovern to be his running mate, only to have Teddy Kennedy put the kibosh on the idea.  There would be only one national Democrat from Massachusetts and wouldn’t be somebody not named Kennedy.  And then the tragedy of bussing, that ripped the city apart and tainted the final years of his career.

The one story I have that will probably not make the papers has to do with the assassination of Martin Luther King.  At the time, White’s top assistant was Barney Frank, my old boss.  At the time, Barney was in his 20’s.  That night, the soul music mega star, James Brown, was scheduled to appear at the Boston Garden.  It was a volatile situation.  In Barney’s recollection, he said that, in confronting that extraordinarily scary night, all he could think in his 25 year old mind, “So, when are the adults going to show up to fix this?”

In the end, they persuaded Brown to allow the concert to be broadcast over public radio, which kept people who might otherwise be on the street home listening to the radio.  Of course, they had to pay Brown $60,000 to make up for the lost ticket sales.  But it was a small price to pay.

The title of this post refers to a famous political ad he ran during one of his campaigns where he does the voice over himself and describes a typical day in Boston.  In his thick Boston accent, he says, “The boats are in the hahbah….”  The ad concludes with a night time zoom shot into the one window with the light on in City Hall….his office and there he is, working at his desk.  It’s a classic.

I met him once at the Democratic Convention in Boston in 2004.  He was already suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but this was obviously one of his good days.  He was bubbling over, as you can see from the picture.

He was a legend, may he rest in peace.

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