BOSTON (CBS) – In 1948, Boston was a mess. Riddled with political corruption, paralyzed by class conflict between the Beacon Hill Brahmins and the growing Irish and Italian neighborhoods, Boston’s manufacturing jobs had moved south and west, and newer industries preferred the suburbs.
The State House was controlled by Republicans with little use for Boston’s ethnic Democrats. The city was, in one historian’s term, “a hopeless backwater.”
Seventy years later, Boston and Massachusetts are paragons of progressive politics, a hot spot for innovations in health care and social tolerance, a magnet for investment by the top names in American business.
A new generation stepped in – and stepped up.
Mayor John Hynes began cleaning up the parochialism and corruption of the James Michael Curley era. The rise of Democrats in Congress like Tip O’Neill and John McCormack put Massachusetts back on the map for federal funding.
And then there were the Kennedys.
Other Irish-Americans had risen to power before, but John F. Kennedy gave Massachusetts newfound clout and charisma. And while he was ridiculed as a callow rich kid early on, Ted Kennedy rose to become one of his generation’s most powerful senators, a key architect of the health care and defense research sectors that drive the modern Massachusetts economy.
JFK left another legacy as well – the conviction of seemingly every Massachusetts pol that they, too, could one day become president. He was the first of four Bay State pols to win a major-party nomination for president since 1960 – JFK, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry and Mitt Romney – and the only successful one.
WBZ-TV Flashback: Dukakis Announces Presidential Run
Meanwhile, there were more firsts here – Boston’s first Italian-American mayor, Tom Menino, and our state’s first (and only the nation’s third-ever) African-American governor, Deval Patrick. In 2004 we became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage; in 2006, the first to institute universal health care.
Corruption and incompetence have not vanished entirely; from the UMass-Boston construction scandals of the 1970’s to the fatal Big Dig ceiling collapse of 2006 and the project’s egregious cost overruns, Massachusetts politics continues to prove that nobody’s perfect, to say the least.
But as Massachusetts has evolved from afterthought to national leader, Boston – the one-time “hopeless backwater” – is becoming the “shining city on a hill” that the 17th century colonists of Massachusetts envisioned.
From anti-crime initiatives like the “Boston Miracle” of the 1990’s to the One Fund that showered the Marathon bombing victims with support, “Boston Strong” has become a contemporary euphemism for a progressive state and its vibrant, innovative capital city that validates the American Dream – that diverse ethnic groups and economic classes can somehow come together to form a more perfect union.