Is that true?
KING: In part. There were still issues around the school and whatnot.
You mean busing?
KING: Yeah, but that wasn't an issue in the campaign. The thing is, who would have been the opponent? If it had been [former Boston School Committee president David] Finnegan, it would have been difficult to say. I don't know what kind of campaign Ray would have run then. But he did have some black support. He had the support of the Banner. They were critical of me for running, said I'd take votes away from Finnegan.
FLYNN: You don't know this, Mel, but I was under extraordinary pressure by the political establishment in the city and state not to run. I was perceived as a spoiler by the more entrenched, establishment white candidate.
FLYNN: No, it wasn't Finnegan. It wasn't a candidate who was in the race. But it was right from the very top. . . .
Talk about a grassroots campaign the likes of which this city had never seen before. I heard about Mel walking into the Farragut House in South Boston the night after one of those debates, and the bartender told me later on that when he walked in, everybody started clapping. This is in South Boston! They didn't know him from commercials; they knew him from walking around and being active and participating in neighborhood issues. That's how campaigning was in Boston in those days. I didn't go on television once. I did the Irish Hour on radio to shore up my base, but that was it. It cost $35 for 30 seconds.
Lining up over here to vote for you, lining up over there to vote for me — people were looking for real, meaningful change. And I think people are looking for that now. That's why people are lining up at the polls in Ohio and Pennsylvania and everywhere. The problems are different than what we had then, but nonetheless, that's what motivates people.
That election had a lot of attributes you don't see anymore: the number of debates and forums, the high turnout, the intensely grassroots character you mentioned. What's changed?
POLICE PROTECTION: In 1976, Boston’s students rode to school with an armed guard.
FLYNN: In our campaign, there were 76 public forums and debates. Seventy-six! And we showed up at every single one of them. It didn't matter if there were five people down at Columbia Point or if it was broadcast live on TV; we were there. And we weren't making speeches; neither one of us was Stephen Douglas. We knew the issues and we answered questions, and people came out invested in the campaign. How the hell are you going to vote for somebody you don't know? That's how elections were won at one time in Boston. Not anymore.
KING: I think the biggest thing was the campaign's focus on communities. In prior years, the campaigns were focused on downtown.
KING: It was easy to show graphically how the neighborhoods had been cleaned out, in terms of urban renewal and lack of attention. And then, if you looked downtown, you could imagine that downtown went up at the expense of the neighborhoods. If you went down Blue Hill Avenue, you saw all the vacant lands. Where did all that go? And if you looked downtown, you saw all those tall buildings that had come up, and it had to be at the expense of the neighborhoods.