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A tough old city

The crowd in Lynn was composed mostly of pols and photographers and TV crews yesterday noon as they stood around in front of the Vamp Building in Liberty Square and waited for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to arrive.

They stood in the cold and hunched their shoulders while moving from one foot to the other. Some asked rhetorically, "Where's Kennedy?" I agreed that he's usually late. There was a crowd of spectators across the street and National Guard Sgt. Donald Scanlon, 34, of Lynn, stood guard. The people were there to look at the smoldering ruins of 17 buildings destroyed by the devastating fire Saturday that temporarily ended this old blue-collar city's dramatic economic comeback.

There was House Speaker Tommy McGee ("If this isn't a disaster, I don't know what the hell is."), wearing a soft, fire-house-red hat that was somehow appropriate for the solemn occasion and US Sen. Paul Tsongas ("It's going to be done, but it's going to be a lot tougher to rebuild.") and US Rep. Nicholas Mavroules ("I can identify with Mayor Tony Marino. This is a disaster."). They were interviewed and reinterviewed while Fire Chief Joe Scanlon Jr. complained that he had been misquoted about the fire's cause. A photographer shuffled around, moving like a fighter waiting for the opening bell to ring, then said aloud, "Come on Ted!" Everyone was waiting for Kennedy.

He possesses that special star quality and so what if he fell on his face in his presidential quest last year. That quality is still there, although I don't fully understand why, so the people waited patiently in the cold for a look at him. Then one of the photographers said, "Come on!" and started a half-run along Broad street. That is usually the sign that the senator has arrived.

A three-car caravan had pulled up and Kennedy stepped out of the black limousine. There were five uniformed state policemen in the first car. Kennedy put on a tan overcoat and walked toward the crowd. He was serious and unsmiling as he almost disappeared upon being surrounded by reporters and photographers and TV crews. He stood with Chief Scanlon and said he had taken a helicopter trip over the scene and that was the reason for his delay. McGee apparently then asked a few questions but the rest of the people could harldy see Kennedy, let alone hear him.

Then Scanlon said, "The fire started right over here." They started walking toward 266 Broad street where a an old, vacant eight-story shoe factory once stood. Now there was only a pile of bricks there. Kennedy looked resigned to the crowd of stumbling reporters and photographers who continued to follow him. He had witnessed the same scene a thousand times. He looked at the smoldering ruins and said, "You only have to be here a few seconds to recognize a problem, a great problem exists."

Then the procession reversed itself and Kennedy shook hands through the crowd and got back into the limousine. He was off to a meeting with Mayor Tony Marino at Lynn City Hall. The crowd immediately dispersed along with the reporters and photographers. The Kennedy mob scene was nothing new. Now the show was over.

If you want to know the truth, Lynn is a dreary old factory city, plagued by the urban problems of other old cities: declining middle class and industrial population and higher taxes and increased crime - and arson. They say here thank God for the General Electric Company because it employs about 12,000 people in Lynn. Nobody even wants to think about Lynn without GE. But the city started dramatically moving forward again several years ago, spurred on by a flood of federal money, thanks primarily to House Speaker Tommy McGee and his friendship with then-President Jimmy Carter. Then the renovation and restoration began.

But now the fire has changed all that and the federal money probably won't be there under the Reagan Administration. None of the pols, except Tsongas, would come out and flatly say that, and even he qualifies his answer with, "This site is valuable, because it is near the ocean, so maybe it will be OK."

Thomas Iarrobino is senior vice president of the Security National Bank in Lynn. He said the fire has had a "devastating" effect on the city. He said a Milwaukee firm, Town Realty, was scheduled Friday to sign closing papers to buy four buildings for $10 million. The fire ended all that.

But Iarrobino is confident that the Lynn renaissance somehow will continue, led by the city development team of Edward Calnam, Bob Baker and Kevin Ganey. Almost everyone is confident. The Lynn Item in a front page editorial yesterday said, in part: "This is a tough old city and one with a resilient soul. No one, no thing, will drive us down." Anyone who knows anything about old Lynn will have to say Amen! Amen!

 Day of the fire storm in Lynn (Boston Globe, 11/29/81)
 List of injured in Lynn fire (Boston Globe, 11/29/81)
 Federal aid tight, senators tell Lynn (Boston Globe, 12/1/81)
 JEREMIAH MURPHY: A tough old city (Boston Globe, 12/1/81)
 How they fought the Lynn fire (Boston Globe, 12/4/81)
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