RAY FLYNN is more blue than green today, and with reason. This was supposed to be the week his campaign for governor achieved lift-off. But instead of streaking up and away, his political career is starting to resemble one of those hapless Vanguard rockets of the late 1950s -- the kind that used to collapse on the launching pad while the whole world watched and snickered.
Former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn
The ambassador to the Holy See had planned on being everywhere right about now, generating lots of video and lots of attention: keynoting a gala at the Catholic Museum of America; appearing with Bill Clinton during a presidential visit to Boston; marching in parades in Providence and Holyoke.
After weeks of emitting leaks, hints and trial balloons, Flynn was going to shift his political machine into drive and step on the accelerator.
Or was he? Just because Flynn or his aides say that something is so has never been good evidence that it actually is. If there is one constant to Flynn's career, it is inconstancy.
This is a mayor, let us recall, who lobbied for an appointed school committee, then repudiated it after he got his wish.
This is a Democrat who supported Mario Cuomo for president in 1992. Then flirted with Ross Perot. Then moved to Bill Clinton.
This is a politician who, exactly a year ago, accepted an offer to be ambassador to the Vatican in a tear-filled announcement on the steps of his church: "The thought that comes to mind is my mother coming home from work scrubbing buildings, going to the 6 p.m. Mass here . . . and here is her son who has been nominated by the president . . . to represent this country at the Vatican."
And then, 2-1/2 months later, said he would refuse it: "If it's a job to sit in some plush office overlooking the Sistine Chapel . . . I won't take a do-nothing position." And then accepted it after all.
But for selfish, publicity-hounding tergiversation, nothing matches Flynn's behavior prior to the last governor's race. To reread the headlines is to be reminded that Ray Flynn minus raw politics equals zero.
Nov. 11, 1988: "Flynn mulls joining race for governor."
Nov. 27, 1988: "Flynn up and running for gov."
Jan. 6, 1989: "Ray: No way!" ("I have no plans to run for governor in 1990 . . . I will not reconsider this decision.")
Jan. 7, 1989: "Flynn happy with choice of not running for gov."
March 12, 1989: "Ray Flynn reopens door to gov's race."
April 15, 1989: "Flynn: My wife doesn't want me to run."
Dec. 28, 1989: "Mayor eyeing Corner Office" ("I refuse to close the door on a governor's run entirely.")
Jan. 4, 1990: "Flynn promises candidacy decision within 60 days."
Feb. 5, 1990: "Mayor's aides putting together gov-race staff."
Feb. 6, 1990: "Flynn camp chasing delegates."
Feb. 25, 1990: "Flynn hedges on gov bid."
March 13, 1990: "Flynn: $$ crisis may force me to run."
April 17, 1990: "Mayor rules out gov run."
To be or not to be, to go or not to go. Flynn could give Hamlet lessons in dithering. Sorry, that's unfair to the Prince of Denmark. Hamlet had a genuine moral dilemma to wrestle with. (What would you do if your murdered father's ghost told you to kill your uncle?) Flynn's personal crises -- at least the ones he plays out in public -- are never about principle. They're always about what's best for Raymond Leo Flynn, not what's best for Boston or Massachusetts or the US Foreign Service.
Flynn's most recent back-and-forthing on getting into the campaign to unseat Gov. Weld is irrelevant now. Boston's last Irish mayor no longer has a prayer of becoming the state's next Irish governor, not after the triple embarrassment of last week.
Flynn took a left, a right and a knee in the groin. First, the weird tale of the secretive campaign aide who supposedly absconded with a quarter-million dollars. Next the admission that his political committee has routinely paid his credit card bills, including thousands in personal charges -- a potential blockbuster scandal. Third, the humiliatingly short leash the State Department clamped around his neck, ordering him to cancel travel plans and keep out of the limelight.
Still, the disgrace Flynn is feeling now is nothing compared with the mortification he'll suffer if he does get into the campaign. His years in the mayor's office turned him into a shameless, evasive, finger-pointing egotist; a lot of voters who fled the city during his tenure would welcome the chance to demonstrate just what they think of him.
Let Flynn go ahead with his plans to run for governor. Then he'll find out what it really feels like when the luck of the Irish runs out.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)