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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Of Kevin and Mitt

They were as stylistically different as night and day. The visionary Boston pol and the Michigan-born businessman. One had a passion, the other a checklist.

What they shared was an overwhelming political ambition and a desire to play on the national spotlight. And for one fleeting moment, they pass each other on the stage they both craved.

Kevin Hagan White and Willard Mitt Romney shared little politically other than having their ambitions thwarted (at least for a time) by Edward Moore Kennedy. White stood watch as Boston struggled to climb out of its parochial past -- sliding backward a bit over the busing nightmare that defined his epitaph outside Massachusetts.

The visible monuments to White are quite real: Quincy Market, Copley Place and the Back Bay. Yet he was a man who ironically led more in a style similar to Romney than to his own hands-on successors Ray Flynn and Tom Menino.

White nurtured a generation of politicians and functionaries -- Barney Frank, Fred Salvucci, Peter Meade to name three. Romney? Does Eric Fehrnstrom count? I guess so since White did bring us George Regan.

The world will little know nor long remember the direct impact Romney had on Massachusetts during his one term as governor. Many saw it for what it was at the time: a way station on the road to the White House he has trod since midway through that one term.

True, neither White nor Romney was afraid to take the reins in his hands directly when times demanded: White when anger in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination threatened to burn American cities; Romney when the roof of the Ted Williams Tunnel came crashing down.

It will not be their accomplishments that many will recall, but rather the intangibles that separate the men: White, the loner in love with his city; Romney, the man who strapped a dog carrier onto his car roof during a family trip to Canada.

Two men who grew up in political families and sought to follow in the family business -- whether they admit it or not. White has a clear legacy and a statue to mark that passage. It's doubtful we will be building monuments to Mitt.

But Romney may yet have the last laugh, a chance to fulfill the ultimate goal that eluded White.

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