A Mayor’s Legacies

"A World-Class Mayor," Williams Magazine Summer 2012

Mayor Kevin White ’52 didn’t lose interest in 1983 in healing Boston and making its neighborhoods—including South Boston—part of a world-class city (“A World-Class Mayor,” July 2012). In fact, there’s also a Williams twist!

Columbia Point, a former city dump, is now home to the Kennedy Library, UMass-Boston, Boston College High School, and the Harbor Point residential development. In 1983, the Harbor Point site was a 1,200-unit public housing project with only 300, mostly minority-occupied, substandard, and federally subsidized apartments.

At the time, I was assistant secretary for housing in the Reagan administration, with responsibility for public housing. As a Bostonian, I was aware of the living conditions of Columbia Point’s residents. I had worked since 1981 with the Boston Housing Authority’s (BHA) court-appointed receiver and with Mayor White’s Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to redevelop the site into a privately developed, mixed-income neighborhood with guaranteed units for 300 low-income families.

In 1983 the redevelopment was at an impasse, with the BHA and BRA each insisting on its preferred developer. Mayor White called me at my office in Washington and began by referring to us as “fellow Ephmen” who should work together. I agreed, and we came up with the resolution to force a joint venture between the opposing developers.
Mayor White regarded the success of Harbor Point as his crown jewel for the waning days of his tenure as mayor.
—Phil Abrams ’61, Delray Beach, Fla.

Your article on Kevin White (“A World-Class Mayor”) talked glowingly about his role in the modernization of Boston. The comments on the mayor’s role in the school desegregation crisis, however, were a bit misleading. The late mayor himself, on numerous occasions and? in settings including the documentary series Eyes On the Prize, regretted his failure to address the crisis as a “moral” issue. It wasn’t that he was powerless; he did have power because of the office he held. He just failed to use it.

Ruth Batson, whose career as a civil rights and education activist began with the NAACP Boston Branch, often remarked that no political leader stepped forward to say that having students of all races and classes learning together was a good thing and should be encouraged. Mayor White, for all of his achievements, was not out in front during that polarizing time. He later regretted his own failure to take action.
—Steve Cohen ’73, Cambridge, Mass.