Trailblazing Boston Politician Bruce Bolling Dies

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Bruce Bolling, the first African-American president of the Boston City Council, has died after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 67.

Bolling came from a political family and was known for championing causes for Boston's inner city residents. WBUR's Delores Handy joined All Things Considered Tuesday with more on Bolling and people's memories of him.

Bruce Bolling, in 2009 (Martha Coakley/Flickr)
Bruce Bolling, in 2009 (Martha Coakley/Flickr)

Steve Brown: First, tell us more about Bolling's recent years. He was still working while fighting prostate cancer, and I understand he was very happy to see his son reach a big milestone recently.

Delores Handy: Bolling had been dealing with health issues related to prostate cancer. He lived with his wife and their son in Roxbury and died at home Tuesday morning after being hospitalized last week. Bolling's wife, Joyce Ferriabough Bolling, tells me he had been worried that he wouldn't survive to see his son, Bruce Jr., graduate from high school this year but he did, and he was thrilled to then see his son start college at UMass Dartmouth last week.

Up until recently, he was still working at MassAlliance, where he was executive director. That's a nonprofit that helps small, local, minority- and women-owned businesses become and remain viable. I spoke with City Council President Stephen Murphy about Bolling's continued involvement in the community:

He stayed active, even though he was working on helping people develop small businesses. For the last 10 or 12 years, when we would interact with him it was around small business concerns, and then it would always go to politics. And Bruce would be fighting for his neighborhood, fighting for his community, and fighting for the city he loved so much. Boston is much poorer for his passing today.

Bolling served on Boston City Council from 1981 to 1993, including two years as the council's president starting in 1986. Tell us more about his work on the council and what he's best remembered for doing.

He's credited with helping push the Boston jobs residency policy, implemented as the city embarked on a construction campaign that literally changed the face of the city. The policy required that 50 percent of construction jobs go to Boston residents, 25 percent to people of color and 10 percent to women — and that rule remains in effect today.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino credits Bolling for the city's Linkages policy — that's a requirement that downtown developers invest in affordable housing in the city's neighborhoods. Here's the mayor on how he remembers Bolling:

Bruce and I served on the city council for several years together. He was my president. But how I remember Bruce, vote for social justice, fought for social justice on many fronts. He was a stand-out city councilor. Worked hard for the people he represented on a daily basis.

Bolling ran for mayor against Menino in 1993.

As we mentioned, he came from a political family. His father and brother, Royal Bolling Sr. and Royal Bolling Jr., served in the Legislature as senator and representative, respectively. But Bruce Bolling focused his attention on city politics, and I understand helped some younger people of color get into politics and government work?

He and his wife have been active in a number of campaigns aimed at boosting the number of people of color in City Hall. And behind the scenes, he acted as a mentor to people like the man who currently holds the seat Bolling held, City Councillor Tito Jackson.

I think back to the first public office that I ran for, which was delegate to the Democratic state convention so I could vote for Gov. [Deval] Patrick. And he said, 'Well, what are you going to say?' And I was like, 'What are you talking about?' He said, 'You have to give a speech.' And I was like, 'Well I don't have a speech.' So he kind of lightly put his hand on my shoulder — kind of smack on the back of the head, on the shoulder type thing — and he helped me write what I needed to say.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly states that Bruce Bolling is the only African-American to have served as president of the Boston City Council. Charles Yancey served as city council president in 2001.

This program aired on September 11, 2012.

Headshot of Delores Handy

Delores Handy Reporter
Delores Handy was formerly a host and reporter at WBUR.



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