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PETER LUCAS

Is Kevin White's statue tall enough?

ONE WONDERS WHAT the old Kevin White might have said to the recent news that Tom Menino, his successor as mayor of Boston, had commissioned a 10-foot bronze statue of White to stand at Faneuil Hall.

You can picture White, the man who originated the concept of the imperial mayor, turning to one of his sleek aides, arching an eyebrow, and saying, ''What, only 10 feet tall? I always knew Menino had no vision."

This was a man who, despite the grand manner in which he governed as mayor, still had enough of a sense of humor to laugh at himself. One laugh came during a ceremony in 1981 when White presided over the unveiling of two statues -- one standing, one sitting -- of legendary Mayor James Michael Curley behind City Hall. Following the dedication Edward Sullivan, White's vice mayor, commented that when the time came for a memorial to be dedicated to White, it should consist of three statues, not two.

''Two statues would be of Mayor White shaking hands with himself, and the third would be Mayor White looking on and applauding," Sullivan said. White liked that. He had a thing for statues.

Once in February 1973, when I covered City Hall for the Globe, I learned that Argentina was finally sending a statue of a former president that it had offered Boston in 1913, an offer Mayor John F. Fitzgerald accepted. Sixty years later, after overcoming ''several difficulties," the 15-foot statue of Domingo F. Sarmiento, a disciple of Massachusetts educator Horace Mann, was due to arrive in March. What to do?

The Globe ran the story on Page One. The question facing White was what to do with the arrival of the unexpected, six-decade-old gift of a statue of an unknown Argentine without upsetting Argentina and creating an international incident. It was almost as if someone in Argentina had stumbled over the forgotten statue in an old waterfront warehouse. (''You mean this thing hasn't been shipped yet? Get it out of here.")

White solved the problem by doing what he did best. He created a committee, and the committee decided to put the statute on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, between Gloucester and Hereford Streets, where it still stands.

Then there was the controversy over the depressing sculpture called ''The Partisans."

This is the depiction of five lean and beaten Polish freedom fighters, heads bowed in defeat, mounted on starving horses, presented to the city by artist Andrew Pitynski in 1983. The statue represents partisans who fought the Nazis in World War II, and it was designed to illustrate the tragedy of all war. The artist said it also reflects the universal struggle for freedom and human rights. Unfortunately, it also makes you want to kill yourself.

''The Partisans" was originally placed on City Hall Plaza. It remained there for several months until one day when an irreverent newspaperman (me) suggested that a more appropriate title for the work would be, ''Kevin White Leaves City Hall." White ordered the statue moved to Boston Common, where it stands on Charles Street near the intersection with Beacon Street. Although on loan to the city for 6 months, it has been there for almost 23 years. If you are bored with being happy, go see it.

Now it is Kevin White's turn. Waiting for the former mayor's statue down at Faneuil Hall is the looming statue of Samuel Adams, 1722-1803, a former governor. A statue of White would fit right in there. Adams' statue says he was ''a true leader of the people." Well, so wasn't White. It also says that Adams was ''a statesman, incorruptible and fearless." White can buy into that. It says that Adams ''organized the revolution and signed the Declaration of Independence." Well, White was not around for that, but he would have signed had someone asked him.

White was a good man and a good mayor. He deserves a statue. Still, I can hear him say: ''Don't you think it should be made of brass?"

Peter Lucas is a former political reporter and columnist who is director of legislative affairs at the MBTA.

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