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Kevin White (politician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kevin White
Boston Mayor Kevin H White.jpg
51st Mayor of Boston
In office
January 1, 1968[1] – January 2, 1984[2]
Preceded byJohn F. Collins
Succeeded byRaymond Flynn
23rd Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth
In office
January 5, 1961 – December 20, 1967
GovernorJohn A. Volpe
Endicott Peabody
John A. Volpe
Preceded byJoseph D. Ward
Succeeded byJohn Davoren
Personal details
Kevin Hagan White

(1929-09-25)September 25, 1929
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedJanuary 27, 2012(2012-01-27) (aged 82)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationWilliams College (BA)
Boston College (LLB)
Harvard University

Kevin Hagan White (September 25, 1929 – January 27, 2012) was an American politician best known as the Mayor of Boston, an office to which he was first elected at the age of 38, and which he held for four terms, amounting to 16 years, from 1968 to 1984. He presided as mayor during racially turbulent years in the late 1960s and 1970s, and the start of desegregation of schools via court-ordered busing of school children in Boston. White won the mayoral office in the 1967 general election in a hard-fought campaign opposing the anti-busing and anti-desegregation Boston School Committee member Louise Day Hicks. He was earlier elected Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth in 1960 at the age of 31, and resigned from that office after his election as Mayor.

White is credited with revitalizing the waterfront, downtown and financial districts of Boston, and transforming Quincy Market into a metropolitan and tourist destination. In his first term he implemented local neighborhood "Little City Halls" but ended them after narrowly winning the 1975 election during the Boston school desegregation busing crisis, and subsequently constructed a classic and centralized city political machine. He was unsuccessful in his efforts to obtain higher office (Governor of Massachusetts and Vice President of the United States).

His mayoral administration was subject to decades-long federal investigations into corruption, which led to the conviction of more than 20 city hall employees and nearly as many businessmen; the investigations were influential in leading White to decline to seek reelection in 1983, allowing him to avoid public debate and criticism by other mayoral candidates on the topic. He himself was never indicted for wrongdoing.

Family and education

Kevin H. White was born in Jamaica Plain, Boston, on September 25, 1929 to Joseph and Patricia Hagan White.[3] White's father, Joseph C. White, and maternal grandfather, Henry E. Hagan, both served as Boston City Council presidents; Joseph White had also been a state legislator.

Kevin White married Kathryn Galvin in 1956, the daughter of William J. Galvin, another Boston City Council president.[4][5]

White was educated at Tabor Academy, Williams College (A.B., 1952), Boston College Law School (LL.B., 1955) and the Harvard Graduate School of Public Administration (now known as the John F. Kennedy School of Government).[5]

Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

White was first elected to the open statewide office of Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth in 1960 at the age of 31. The incumbent secretary, Joseph D. Ward, decided to run for governor that year (and lost to John A. Volpe in the general election). White won the Democratic Party nomination at the state convention with the crucial assistance of his father and father in law, who called in political debts in order to obtain enough votes to win the nomination. He was nominated on the third ballot of the convention, thus becoming the Democratic candidate in the general election in November,[6] in which he defeated a rising Republican, Edward W. Brooke (who in later years was elected U.S. Senator).[6]

In 1962 White was reelected to a second two-year term, and in 1966 reelected to a four-year term. He served in office through 1967, resigning on December 20, 1967, after winning the Boston mayoral election that November.[5][6][7]

Mayor of Boston

White successfully ran for the open mayoral office in 1967, winning his first election with a coalition of Italian, liberal and black voters.[8] He campaigned for rent control; one of his slogans was "When landlords raise rents, Kevin White raises hell." This was implemented in Boston in 1970, after a Massachusetts enabling law for municipalities was enacted in 1970.[9]

White succeeded mayor John F. Collins, who stepped down after eight years that included urban renewal projects including the planning and building of Boston City Hall, thus paving the way for the future rebuilding and rehabilitation of the waterfront, financial and business districts of the city center that White later undertook.[6]

Elections for Mayor

The Boston mayoral election of 1967 had a primary and a general election. In a ten-candidate non-party primary election for the open office on September 26, 1967, White was second, drawing 19.83% of the vote with 30,789 votes, and Boston School Board member Louise Day Hicks was first, with 28.16% of the vote and 43,722 votes. For the general election on November 7, 1967, only White and Hicks were on the ballot in a runoff contest. White narrowly defeated Hicks, who had taken a staunchly anti-busing (de facto anti-desegregation) position as a member of the Boston School Committee. Her slogan was the coded "You know where I stand."[10]

Hicks's campaign against more progressive fellow Democrat Kevin White was so acrimonious that the Boston Globe, under the editorship of Thomas Winship, broke a 75-year tradition of political neutrality to endorse White.[6][11]

White won the general election with 53.25 percent of the vote, (102,706, only 12,552 more than Hicks' 90,154).[5][6] Two years later, in 1969, Hicks was elected to the Boston City Council by large majorities, and then in 1970 to Congress, winning the open district formerly held by retiring U.S. House Speaker John W. McCormack after defeating Joseph Moakley by 10% in the multi-candidate Democratic primary.[10]

In the 1971 mayoral election White won a second term, again defeating Hicks, this time by 40,000 votes. Hicks in 1972 would lose her congressional seat by two percentage points and 3,428 votes in a post-census revised district and a four-candidate general election that included a rematch with Moakley running as an Independent. Hicks was re-elected to the Boston City Council in 1973, remaining there until she retired from public office in 1981.[10]

In the 1975 mayoral election, White barely defeated State Senator Joe Timilty, the year after the start of court-ordered school desegregation and busing.[5] The 1979 mayoral election was also close, against the same opponent.[4] White did not run again in the 1983 mayoral election, which was won by then-city councilor Raymond Flynn.[4][5][12]


Mayor White’s early administrations were noteworthy for the racial and ethnic diversity of the senior aides and staff to the Mayor, with many staffers subsequently going on to influential positions and elected office.[4][13]

White decentralized municipal government by establishing in the early years of his tenure in office a number of “Little City Halls” in local neighborhoods, giving more influence to local leadership and ethnic and racial minorities to access city hall bureaucracy, but following the narrowly won election in 1975 against Joseph Timilty during the Boston school busing crisis, closed them, re-centralizing power in Boston City Hall and creating a political machine intentionally modeled on the one headed by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, with ward lieutenants empowered to reward White supporters with city jobs and city contracts.[4][5]

Peaceful city after death of Martin Luther King Jr.

In the fourth month of White's first term, on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, touching off disturbances in the African-American Roxbury section of Boston that same evening which did not spread to other parts of the city.[14] On April 5, 5,000 people marched from Boston Common to Post Office Square in King's memory.[15] James Brown had a previously scheduled concert set for that same evening in Boston Garden.[5] White's chief of police was concerned about allowing 15,000 people to attend the concert so close to downtown, saying he didn't think he could keep the city safe.[14] White originally intended to cancel the concert entirely. However, Tom Atkins, a local NAACP leader who had been elected to the City Council from Roxbury in the same election as White 1967 warned of potential rioting if concertgoers arriving at the arena found it canceled. Atkins and members of White's staff persuaded White to allow the show to go on.[8][14][15]

On such short notice, Atkins and White administrators persuaded Brown and Boston's public television station, WGBH-TV, to broadcast the concert.[5][14] The White administration also appealed to community leaders to help keep the peace, and also encouraged people to stay home and watch the concert on television. White appeared on stage with James Brown to appeal to the audience, and to the entire city via television, to remember and maintain King's peaceful vision.[7][16][17]

So all I ask you tonight is this: to let us look at each other, here in the Garden and back at home, and pledge that no matter what any other community might do, we in Boston will honor Dr. King in peace.   -   Kevin White from the stage of Boston Garden[17]

WGBH immediately rebroadcast the concert twice more that night, and people apparently stayed inside to continue watching it.[14] While many cities, including Washington DC, New York, Chicago, Detroit and Oakland, were beset with civil disturbances, rioting and fires after King's death, the city of Boston was spared from widespread disturbances.[15]

White secured $60,000 from the Boston City Council to make up for the loss of ticket revenue to the performers resulting from his efforts to discourage attendance at the close-to-downtown arena at this volatile moment. Only 2,000 had attended the sold-out show, in a venue that had a capacity of 15,000.[6][14][15] Individuals with Brown's entourage state that only $10,000 made it to Brown's production company.[14][18]

History of non-leadership by city elites on civil rights

Barney Frank, who worked as White's chief of staff in City Hall during his first mayoral term, has described White's being dubbed "Mayor Black", because he was the first Boston mayor to admit there was a racial-discrimination problem.[19] White administration staff member, and subsequent Boston City Council President, Bruce Bolling, describes a leadership vacuum on the issue of race, and that for many years "the established institutions — the City Council, the School Committee, the mayor, the business community, the philanthropic community, the religious community — no one weighed in in any responsible way to address this issue of school desegregation."[20]

I don’t know where he [Kevin White] was when we were having the people in South Boston and East Boston and other places who were railing out against the desegregation order. I think it's important for people to understand that the leadership in the white community was very scarce around this issue.   -   Mel King[8]

This elite leadership vacuum would leave Mayor White without the public community leadership and visible alliances and collaboration desirable to peacefully implement new policies necessary to comply with a later court order to desegregate the schools.[20] The Boston School Committee was independently elected, and not under the control of Mayor White, and had put into place de jure segregation and discrimination policies in the operation and funding of schools in Boston, and this was a source of great frustration to Mayor White.[21]

The city administration did not move on the issue of unfair treatment of minorities in the school system, and compliance with anti-segregation laws and decisions, until the a federal court required the city to do so, via a court order.[8]

School desegregation crisis

The state of Massachusetts had enacted in 1965 the "Racial Imbalance Act", the first of its kind in the United States. The law required school districts to desegregate, otherwise state funding for education would be withheld from the school district. The law was opposed by many in Boston, including the Boston School Committee, as well as many especially in working-class districts in Irish-American-majority South Boston.[5]

On June 21, 1974, Judge W. Arthur Garrity issued a decision in Morgan v. Hennigan that found that the Boston School Committee had followed an intentional policy of segregating the city's public schools by race, including building new schools and school annexes in overcrowded white-majority districts, instead of making use of empty seats and classrooms in districts with large minority populations. As a remedy, Garrity ordered the city's schools desegregated, leading to a system of desegregation busing.[22]

In Phase I of the plan, Judge Garrity followed a busing plan previously drawn up by Charles Glenn, the director of the Bureau of Equal Educational Opportunity within the Massachusetts Board of Education, that required schools with a population greater than 50% non-white to be balanced by other races; the initial Phase I plan included only 80 schools, amounting to 40 percent of the Boston Public School system.[23] The Glenn plan had been originally constructed in response to an earlier Massachusetts state lawsuit between the Massachusetts Board of Education and the Boston School Committee. In that earlier lawsuit, the Boston School Committee had sued the Massachusetts Board of Education for the Board's withholding state funds for the Committee's refusal to conform to the requirements of the Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act.[24] Ultimately, among the Boston districts most affected were West Roxbury, Roslindale, Hyde Park, the North End, Charlestown, South Boston and Dorchester.[23]

The desegregation plan in general, and busing in particular, was met with an onslaught of protest. The integration plan provoked fierce criticism and led to months of racially motivated violence, with attacks at City Hall and South Boston and other city high schools, with dozens injured. In some white neighborhoods, protesters threw stones at arriving school buses arriving with black children from other parts of the city. White directed that police escort buses, and also coordinated with state officials to bring in several hundred state police to keep order.[5] On October 15, 1974, the Massachusetts National Guard was deployed by Republican Governor Frank Sargent to Boston to keep order in schools.[23]

One famous incident in 1976 was documented in a news photograph entitled The Soiling of Old Glory. During one demonstration outside Boston City Hall, black lawyer and businessman Ted Landsmark was attacked with an American flag by a white teenager.[20][25][26]

Rolling Stones

In 1972, White made news when the Rhode Island State Police arrested members of The Rolling Stones immediately prior to a concert appearance in the Boston Garden. That evening, a riot was underway in the South End and White needed to move police officers from the Garden to address the disturbance.[27] Fearing unrest among the 15,000 concertgoers if the Stones were not permitted to perform, White persuaded the Rhode Island authorities to release the band members into his personal custody, enabling them to make their scheduled concert appearance in Boston. He then appeared on stage before the waiting fans to urge them to keep the peace.[21][28] White's actions won him favor among young first-time voters and parents of teens in his re-election.[21][28]

A statue outside Boston's Faneuil Hall honors four-term Boston mayor Kevin White.
A statue outside Boston's Faneuil Hall honors four-term Boston mayor Kevin White.

Boston downtown revitalization

White worked for the revitalization of Boston's downtown districts, opening the waterfront to public access, and presiding over a downtown financial district building boom. His administration was instrumental in the renovation and renewal of Quincy Market which reopened in 1976, transforming an eyesore and run-down series of warehouses and open stalls into a "festival marketplace" that was subsequently copied by other cities.[6][29]

Corruption investigations

Prior to White's final term in office, Suffolk County and federal prosecutors were investigating a few mid-level city officials. It became known in March 1981 that city employees had been asked to donate to a birthday celebration in honor of the mayor’s wife; the requested donations were not political, but personal gifts, and had amounted to $122,000 by the time White cancelled the event after public outrage official inquiries were conducted.[6] In July 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed William F. Weld as US District Attorney for Massachusetts. Weld expanded the previously ongoing investigative probes, further examining the White administration and the Whites' personal finances. The resulting indictments, guilty pleas, and convictions were subsequently one of Weld’s credentials when campaigning for governor in 1990. Weld's office issued charges of fraudulent disability pensions, bribery, extortion, and perjury that were the downfall of more than 20 city employees, including a number of key individuals in White’s political machine, and nearly as many businessmen.[4][5][6][30]

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1982 also released a report stating that the city had misappropriated $1.9 million worth of community grants. Federal auditors accused the White administration of improperly using the funds to pay the salaries of city employees that were not working on federally funded projects.[5][30]

Other political campaigns

In his 1970 campaign for governor of Massachusetts, White won a hard-fought multi-candidate Democratic primary election on September 15, 1970, with only 34.33 percent of the vote and by fewer than a two percentage points more than his nearest opponent, Massachusetts Senate President, Maurice A. Donahue. White lost the November 3, general election against Republican Frank Sargent. White's running mate was Michael Dukakis, who challenged and defeated Sargent for the governor's office four years later in 1974. White failed to win more votes than Sargent in the city of Boston in the 1970 general election. White's campaign for governor was interrupted for several days when he underwent emergency stomach surgery for an ulcer.[6]

In 1972, during the Democratic National Convention, White was on the verge of becoming the Democratic Party's vice-presidential nominee.[21] After a number of better-known politicians, including Senators Ted Kennedy and Gaylord Nelson, and Governor Reubin Askew, turned down the position, White briefly became the front-runner for the post. Ted Kennedy, economist John Kenneth Galbraith and others in the Massachusetts delegation opposed White's potential nomination, because White had supported Maine Senator Edmund Muskie during the presidential primaries.[31] Presidential nominee Senator George McGovern decided to turn elsewhere and selected Senator Thomas Eagleton, who was later embroiled in a controversy over his failure to disclose having received electric shock therapy for depression. Ultimately, the vice presidential nominee was former Peace Corps head, Chicago School Board President, and later Ambassador Sargent Shriver, who had married into the Kennedy family. McGovern commented ten years later, in 1982: "Choosing White would have been much better than what happened [with Eagleton]. We probably should have overruled" Kennedy and the others.[31]

Later life

After departing from the mayor's office in 1984, White served as director of the Institute for Political Communication at Boston University from 1984 to 2002, and as a professor of communications and public management.[4][5]

Questions about White’s political finances continued to plague him. In 1993, without admitting guilt, White agreed to return to the state nearly $25,000 in surplus campaign funds that he had used for personal expenses.[5]

On November 1, 2006, a statue of White was unveiled at Boston's Faneuil Hall.[4] The bronze statue, created by sculptor Pablo Eduardo, portrays White walking down the sidewalk. Behind the statue are several metal footprints along the sidewalk. With these are several quotes from White which were made during his mayoral inauguration speeches.


In 1970, during his campaign for governor, White underwent surgery that removed two-thirds of his stomach. In 2001, the since-retired White suffered a heart attack that left him with a pacemaker. In his advanced age, he lost hearing in his right ear and suffered from Alzheimer's disease.[32]

See also


  1. ^ "'New Inaugural' in Traditional Boston Setting Today". The Boston Globe. January 1, 1968. p. 3. Retrieved March 17, 2018 – via
  2. ^ "FLYNN INAUGURAL TO SET SOME FIRSTS". The Boston Globe. January 2, 1984. p. 1. Retrieved March 17, 2018 – via
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Former Boston Mayor Kevin White Has Died At 82". WBUR Radio. January 27, 2012. Retrieved January 30, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Fox, Margalite (January 27, 2012). "Kevin H. White, Mayor Who Led Boston in Busing Crisis, Dies at 82". The New York Times. Retrieved January 29, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Mooney, Brian C. (January 28, 2012). "Kevin White, mayor through era of change, dead at 82". The Boston Globe. Retrieved January 31, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Boeri, David (January 29, 2012). "Kevin White: A Reporter Remembers". WBUR Radio. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
  8. ^ a b c d Martin, Phillip (January 30, 2012). "Boston's School Desegregation Era". WGBH. Retrieved February 2, 2012. Mel King is quoted in the article: "Very frankly, the problem [the issue of government discrimination and segregation in schools] didn’t get solved until the courts made it happen."
  9. ^ Drier, Peter (May 1997). "Rent Deregulation in California and Massachusetts: Politics, Policy, and Impacts". Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at the New York University School of Law, and the New York City Rent Guidelines Board. p. 10. Retrieved January 30, 2012.
  10. ^ a b c "Louise Day Hicks: Representative, 1971–1973, Democrat from Massachusetts". Women in Congress. Office of the Clerk, United States House of Representatives. Archived from the original on March 11, 2016. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
  11. ^ Farrell, John A., Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century (Boston: Little, Brown, 2001), p. 522
  12. ^
  13. ^ Greene, Roy; Knothe, Alli; Young, Colin A. (January 31, 2012). "The far-reaching influence of Kevin White". The Boston Globe. Retrieved January 31, 2012.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Chideya, Farai (April 1, 2008). "The Night James Brown Saved Boston". Retrieved February 2, 2012. Interview of David Leaf and review of the documentary The Night James Brown Saved Boston by David Leaf
  15. ^ a b c d Trott, Robert W. (April 5, 1993). "How Brown soothed a city". Freelance Star (Fredericksburg VA). Associated Press. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  16. ^ Navin, Mark (January 30, 2012). "Former Longtime Boston Mayor And The Infamous James Brown Concert". WBUR Radio. Retrieved February 2, 2012. (With a link to video of Kevin White's statement on stage, and James Brown's introductory number of the performance.)
  17. ^ a b Brown, Steve (January 29, 2012). "Kevin White's Legacy: A Larger-Than-Life Mayor". WBUR Radio. Retrieved January 30, 2012.
  18. ^ Johnson, Bill (February 17, 2010). "VIDEO: "The Night James Brown Saved Boston"". The Urban Daily. Retrieved February 2, 2012. Article contains links to the video "The Night James Brown Saved Boston, by David Leaf
  19. ^ Weisberg, Stuart E. Barney Frank: the story of America's only left-handed, gay, Jewish congressman. p. 83.
  20. ^ a b c Pfeiffer, Sacha; Jolicoeur, Lynn (January 30, 2012). "White's Busing Legacy His 'Biggest Blemish,' Says Former City Councilor". WBUR Radio. Retrieved January 31, 2012. Interview with Bruce Bolling, former White staffer and subsequently Boston City Council President.
  21. ^ a b c d Oakes, Bob (January 28, 2012). "Former Staffers Recall White's Deep Love For Boston". WBUR Radio. Retrieved February 1, 2012. Interview with Micho Spring, appointed deputy mayor under White; and Peter Meade, who held several positions under White, including director of public safety during court-ordered busing.
  22. ^ Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James Hennigan et al., 379 F. Supp., 410 (District of Massachusetts June 21, 1974).
  23. ^ a b c Walsh, Catherine (September 1, 2000). "Busing in Boston: Looking Back at the History and Legacy". Ed. The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved February 2, 2012. (Page 3 and following web pages)
  24. ^ "Workable Peace: Boston Busing: Integrating Schools in Massachusetts" (PDF). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Consensus Building Institute. 2001. p. 9, footnote 11. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 23, 2012.
  25. ^ Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. Basic Books, New York. pp. 252–264. ISBN 0-465-04195-7.
  26. ^ "Boston School Busing and Desegregation -  Wednesday, 10/15 (Exhibits at the Gottesman Libraries, Teachers College, Columbia University)". Gottesman Libraries, Teachers College, Columbia University. October 15, 2008.
  27. ^ Lukas, J. Anthony (1986). Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families (1st Vintage Books ed.). New York: Vintage Books. pp. 598–599. ISBN 0394746163.
  28. ^ a b Greenfield, Robert (2002). S.T.P.: A Journey Through America with the Rolling Stones. Da Capo Press. pp. 258–278. ISBN 0-306-81199-5.
  29. ^ Lovett, Chris (January 31, 2012). "Kevin White: A Neighborhood Perspective". Retrieved February 6, 2012.Chris Lovett is News Director of Neighborhood Network News in Boston
  30. ^ a b "Party plans hurt mayor of Boston". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. December 27, 1982. Retrieved June 8, 2011.
  31. ^ a b Kahan, Joseph P. (October 23, 2012). "Since 1972, Massachusetts, McGovern Shared Unique Bond". The Boston Globe. p. B3. (alternative article link: via Highbeam:
  32. ^ Thomas, Jack (June 20, 2005). "The loner in winter: Former mayor Kevin White is being robbed by Alzheimer's -- but bolstered by a dear friend". The Boston Globe. Retrieved January 31, 2012.

Further reading

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Joseph D. Ward
Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth
Succeeded by
John Davoren
Preceded by
John F. Collins
Mayor of Boston
Succeeded by
Raymond Flynn
Party political offices
Preceded by
Edward J. McCormack, Jr.
Democratic nominee for Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Michael Dukakis
This page was last edited on 18 December 2019, at 06:08
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