Category: Archive

Flynn Avenue

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

On St. Patrick’s Day, Flynn will walk a matter of blocks as grand marshal of the 246th consecutive New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
It’s a fair bet, however, that the short walk in one borough will have his heart pounding faster than all those runs through five.
Boston’s most widely known mayor is returning to a town where he once made a record number of final quarter field goals at a Madison Square Garden basketball game.
Flynn is known far and wide as Mayor Flynn. Not infrequently he is addressed as ambassador. But he has no problem with plain Ray.
Flynn has had a career so high flying that he might have long ago lost the run of himself. But that’s not how the man was put together.
As he leads tens of thousands of people up the avenue in front of crowds of cheering spectators on its sidewalks, Ray Flynn will be thinking of himself as really just another face in the crowd.
He might be a stand out guy. But he’s never been standoffish.
Flynn was born into a tight-knit South Boston community where people knew each other’s families, their loves, arguments, foibles and business affairs, good and not so good.
The streetscape surrounding the young Ray Flynn’s home was a classic example of a mid-20th century Irish American urban incubator: It raised cops, robbers, firefighters, priests, nuns, lawyers, store keepers, public servants of every stripe and, of course, politicians.
If the mystery of DNA had been unraveled the year Flynn was born, his would have looked like red, white, blue – and green – bunting.
But there might have been a diversion along the road to city hall. The young Ray Flynn was not only a good basketball player – he was a bona fide star.
Flynn was an All-American at Providence College, was selected most valuable player in the National Invitational Tournament during his senior year and chosen for the NCAA Hall of Fame. He was the last player cut from Red Auerbach’s world champion Boston Celtics in 1964.
The Boston Garden’s parquet was not to be Flynn’s stage but he was already on a different track, one on which he was to vividly display another natural talent.
His early political career, spanning the years 1971-79, was honed as a Democratic member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. It was a baptism of fire. Flynn found himself representing his family’s neighbors during the tense days of Southie’s busing crisis.
Flynn would draw his career closer to the center of Boston’s political life when he secured election to the City Council in 1978. By 1984 he was mayor and ready to implement some of the lessons he had learned on his march to city hall. One of these sparked Flynn’s actions aimed at finally desegregating Boston’s public housing.
While all politics might be local, as another famous Massachusetts politician put it, being an Irish-American mayor of a major U.S. city would simply mean that the word local had a broader meaning than was usually the case. In Flynn’s case, local was trans-Atlantic.
Flynn, who repeatedly balanced his city’s budget, presided over some of its fatter economic years, and, in 1991, became the first mayor in the city’s history to secure reelection by winning every ward, was outspoken about Northern Ireland from his first days in office.
“Flynn took a very principled stand on the North and traveled over there a lot,” said the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen.
“He had a very tight partnership with John Hume and helped bring a lot of business from Boston to Derry. And Flynn’s involvement was about much more than rhetoric,” said Cullen.
Hume would later state that Flynn had helped “take the gun out of Northern Ireland politics by substituting it with a job.”
“He was politically bold,” said Cullen of Flynn. “He took an independent path and that meant he was not just critical of state or loyalist violence, but also republican violence. In this he was very forward thinking and the British couldn’t simply dismiss him.”
Flynn also found himself in the middle of the growing debate over illegal immigration. He would declare his city a sanctuary for those who lacked status, and not just the Irish. At the same time, he would also lend his name and political prestige to efforts to legalize tens of thousands of undocumented Irish.
“The city of Boston, under Mayor Flynn’s leadership, was a national model and widely praised for championing the cause of immigrants, including the Irish,” said
Steven McDonald, the hero New York City police officer who counts himself as one of Flynn’s closest friends.
“The connection between Ray Flynn’s Boston and our great City of New York on issues of importance to those who seek peace and justice in Ireland is remarkable,” McDonald said.
It was fitting, then, that when presidential candidate Bill Clinton electrified Irish America on a spring night in 1992 with his pledges to intervene in Northern Ireland, Ray Flynn was one of the two most nationally prominent Irish American political figures at that presidential forum. The other was Paul O’Dwyer.
As president, Bill Clinton would fulfill those promises made at the Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan. He would also open a new chapter in Ray Flynn’s life by appointing him, in 1993, as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.
It would be here that Flynn would witness, up close and personal, the life and work of Pope John Paul II. He would pen two books about the Polish pontiff and recount to John Paul how he had once held federal immigration agents at bay while sheltering in his mayoral office a group of Polish sailors who had jumped ship and were seeking asylum.
The Polish sailors incident was a typical Flynn move, an impromptu fanfare for the common man.
Ray Flynn has dedicated his post-ambassadorial years to championing the regular guy, the ordinary person, day-to-day concerns that most people carry through their lives.
“Ray Flynn represents the best of Irish America,” said New York attorney and political activist, Brian O’Dwyer.
“He has always stood up for human rights. He has made Irish America very proud.”
On St. Patrick’s Day, Irish America will have a chance to display that pride as Raymond Leo Flynn, Boston’s “mayor of the neighborhoods” steps off on the next leg of his long running and extraordinary life.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese