Friday, September 23, 2005

Who is Ray Flynn?

Ray Flynn, people'’s mayor, son of a longshoreman, young and bigoted when he fought busing of blacks into Southie, but saw the light and became a racial peacemaker.

Is that the guy?

Or is it the Boston mayor who vetoed condom vending-machine requirements for restaurants and bars when AIDS was already a threat, the staunch support of Bernard Cardinal Law (both before and after the abuse scandals), tainted by alleged financial improprieties in office and partying instead of working while ambassador to the Vatican, the opponent of abortion and of gay rights, and don'’t even mention same-sex marriage to him.

Is that the guy?

He was almost on a Celtic team that went on to a championship. He was almost a candidate for POTUS. He was almost a U.S. Rep. from the Eighth District. He was almost a statesman at the Vatican. He was almost a civil libertarian.

Is that the guy?

Or is he a leader and original petition signer of the ballot initiative to rescind same-sex marriage rights? Is the one on the dais as well as the petition (and the phone) with extremist anti-gay groups such as Mass Family Institute? Is he the chairman of Catholic Citizenship urging all Roman Catholics to vote as a bloc for regressive, ultra-conservative legislation?

Is that the guy?

Unfortunately, yes, yes, yes and yes.

I knew Ray Flynn slightly, bumping into him on the street, figuratively and literally, but more about that later. I was active in housing issues in the 1980s when he was mayor. By coincidence, a high-school chum from New Jersey was one of Flynn'’s advisors, concerned with housing among other public good issues. I ran across both when attending or testifying at public hearings.

Ray had developed a reputation for his liberal human-rights stances and efforts to bring racial harmony to a strained city. Little did we know the sharp and sudden limits to his compassion and commitment to equality.

Gay rights, including same-sex marriage, are perhaps the most pronounced. It turns out that because the Church hierarchy is not anti-black, anti-Asian or otherwise overtly racist, Raybo was fair there.

On homosexuality, Ray has remained constant. Now that he is not an elected official, nor an appointed one, he can and does act out on that.

Now in his sixties, Ray has teamed up with Larry Cirignano, executive director of their Catholic Citizenship. Cirignano has a nasty history of extreme right-wing jobs and platforms. The New Jersey lawyer was spokesman for the Christian Coalition and for former national drug tsar William Bennett. As part of his campaign to get Catholic Church leaders active in politics and policy making, he has supported appointmentent of Priscilla Owen to the U.S. Supreme Court, bishops' lobbying and speaking against pro-choice laws, and of course, overturning the rights of same-sex couples to marry here. He advises various groups how far they can push church and state against each other without running afoul of tax agencies. He also supports denying communion to a politician who votes for abortion rights, among other issues.

We don't know precisely how the Ray and Larry Show formalized. It seems a natural fit, so long as you forget that Flynn was a Democrat (who endorsed George W. Bush). This outgrowth of Cirignano'’s Catholic Vote started last fall, when it got coverage from the Catholic News Service (CNS) and Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi. (The latter requires a subscription or pay-per-article for archives.)

Flynn would not speak with Vennochi. She described his new spot as "“walking a fine line between church and state and the presidential campaigns."

CNS quotes Flynn as, "We try to get the idea of voting Democrat or Republican out of people's minds. What the Catholic population needs to do is examine the issues and use their own moral values to decide which candidate best represents those issues. I'd rather be a good American and a good Catholic than a good Democrat."

And he is, if good means doing what you'’re told.

So, there's a good chance Ray's legacy will be kind of liberal in the middle, and divisive and conservative on both ends. In the big picture, the middle was a short period and the anomaly.


Oh, in what may be an insight or a meaningless event, Ray did bump into me on the sidewalk. When he was mayor, my five-year-old son and I were walking home from the Haymarket. Ray and a chum were jogging on coming the other way. I held my son's hand so that he was behind me and Ray had room to pass, assuming that he did not block the whole sidewalk by staying abreast of his buddy.

Instead, he came right at me as though I should leap into the street with my kid. He slammed his shoulder into mine, hard and clearly intentionally. If he were still a ball player, he would have been called for an intentional foul. Fortunately, I am at least as big and strong as he, and he ended up sideways –– making room anyway.

The interesting angle is that not only did he come at me on purpose, but he neither stopped nor apologized. One would figure that as a mayor he would have enough political savvy not to threaten a likely voter. One would also figure that his family would have taught him better manners.

If you ascribe meaning to this tiny event, you might think that when Ray is headed somewhere, he'll do what he feels like to get there.

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