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Bruce Bolling’s Legacy: Trailblazing councillor who was a good neighbor

Tribute to Bolling: The city and state's political leadership packed the Morningstar Baptist Church on Sept. 17 for the funeral of former Boston City Council President Bruce Bolling, who died on Sept. 11. Photo by Don WestTribute to Bolling: The city and state's political leadership packed the Morningstar Baptist Church on Sept. 19 for the funeral of former Boston City Council President Bruce Bolling, who died on Sept. 11. Photo by Don West

The death of former City Councillor Bruce Bolling marks the end of one era of African-American politics in Boston. He served as a city councilor from 1982-1993 and was the first African-American to serve as City Council President when he held that position in 1986.

Bolling came from a family of politicians. At one point, his father was State Senator, his brother was State Representative, and he was a City Councillor, a trifecta of positions.  Once when the state announced a program of $100 million for subsidized mortgages from the state housing finance agency, there was flier put out with pictures of the three Bollings with the title, “Bollings announce $100 million mortgage program” and the slogan, “Let’s Get Rolling with Bolling.”

That was a bit of stretch as the Bollings didn’t pass this funding alone, but it was a catchy flier and they were trying to get the word out about a good program.  When I mentioned it to Bruce, he said shyly, “Oh, you know, that’s just my Dad.”

In 1981, Mayor Kevin White was in a phase of trying to build a political machine.  He backed seven candidates for City Council who were then dubbed “The Kevin Seven.”  Of these seven, only Bruce Bolling was elected so though helped by Mayor White, he had to have had his own base of support to get elected.

When there was a campaign to strengthen Boston’s rent control law in 1982, it came down to the wire and something had to be passed by December 31 or the current law would expire. No one at that time wanted that to happen.  The City Council had an emergency meeting on New Year’s Eve in the nighttime. I reluctantly had to go since I was working for the Dorchester based Massachusetts Tenants Organization working on this issue. Bruce showed up in a tuxedo. He was willing to work, but then ready to party!

Bruce Bolling was the first Boston elected official to propose a linkage law for Boston. Linkage is a requirement that downtown developers of large office buildings pay into a fund for affordable housing based on their paying something toward their employees that they were bringing to the city and who might live there.  This fee has provided many, many millions of dollars over the years that the City has used to make grants to non-profit developers so the rents in their new buildings could be at affordable levels. An amendment to linkage also provides for some of the money to fund job training programs.

Back in 1982, I worked for a tenants rights group and we wanted to be the first to propose linkage, but one of our coalition members blocked it because they thought it wasn’t a tenants’ issue. This was very frustrating, but at least Bruce Bolling introduced this and then we all worked to support its getting passed. After leaving the City Council, Bruce worked for a minority contractors group on issues of fair access to public building contracts.

Last year, I attended a meeting in Roxbury with Bruce and his wife Joyce Ferriabough-Bolling.  My car ended up getting towed because of a misunderstanding about what was a legal place to park.  Stranded at night, Bruce and Joyce agreed to drive me to the towing lot in the South End, wait for me to reclaim my car,  and lend me the cash needed to bail out my car since I didn’t have enough cash on me. Talk about being a good neighbor!

It was poignant to read that Bruce battled cancer for four years and wanted to live long enough to see his son graduate from high school and go to college and he did that. Bruce, we thank and remember you for what you did to make our city better.

Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident.