John Frederick Collins (July 20, 1919 – November 23, 1995) was the mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, United States from 1960 to 1968.
John Collins was born in Roxbury, Boston on July 20, 1919 to an Irish-Catholic family. His father, Frederick "Skeets" Collins, worked as a mechanic for the Boston Elevated Railway. Collins graduated from Roxbury Memorial High School, a public school in Boston, and in 1941 he graduated from Suffolk University Law School. He served a tour in the Army Counterintelligence Corps during World War II, rising in rank from private to captain. He was a Knight of Columbus.
In 1946, Collins married Mary Patricia Cunniff, a legal secretary, who Collins had met through his work as an attorney. She would later campaign for Collins when he was incapacitated by polio. The couple had four children.
Early political career
In 1947, Collins was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, representing Jamaica Plain, and, in 1950, to the Massachusetts State Senate. Collins spent two terms as senator and then ran unsuccessfully for state attorney general in 1954, losing to George Fingold. While campaigning for a seat on the City Council in 1955, Collins and his children contracted polio. Collins' children recovered and he continued with his campaign despite warnings from his doctors. As a result of the disease, Collins was forced to use a wheelchair or crutches for the rest of his life. He was elected to the Council and the following year was appointed Register of Probate for Suffolk County.
Mayor of Boston
In 1959, he ran against John E. Powers for Mayor of Boston. Collins was widely viewed as the underdog in the race. Collins ran on the slogan "stop power politics", and was widely seen as independent of any political machine. Collins' victory in the 1959 mayoral election was considered the biggest upset in city politics in decades. Boston University political scientist Murray Levin wrote a book on the race, titled The Alienated Voter: Politics in Boston, which attributed Collins' victory to the voters' cynicism and resentment of the city's political elite.
Collins inherited a city in fiscal distress. Property taxes in Boston were twice as high as in New York or Chicago, even as the city's tax base was declining. Collins established a close relationship with a group of local business leaders known as the Vault, cut taxes in five of his eight years in office and imposed budget cuts on city government. Collins' administration focused on downtown redevelopment: Collins brought the urban planner Edward J. Logue to Boston to lead the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Collins' administration supervised the construction of the Prudential Center complex and of Government Center.
Collins won re-election in 1963, easily defeating City Councilor Gabriel Piemonte. However, Collins' budget priorities led to a decrease in city services, particularly in residential neighborhoods outside of downtown. As a result, Collins became unpopular among city residents. In 1966 Collins ran for Senate but lost in the primary to former Massachusetts Governor Endicott Peabody. Collins lost 21 out of Boston's 22 wards. Weakened politically, Collins declined to seek reelection in 1967.
After leaving office in 1968, Collins held visiting and consulting professorships at MIT for 13 years.
In the early 1970s, Collins drifted away from the Democratic Party. He chaired the group Massachusetts Democrats and Independents for Nixon and, in 1972, attacked Democrats for "their crazy policies of social engineering and abortion." Collins was considered for the position of Secretary of Commerce in the Nixon administration.
Death and burial
Collins died of pneumonia in Boston, on November 23, 1995. He was buried at St. Joseph's Cemetery in West Roxbury, five days later, following a funeral Mass at Boston's Holy Cross Cathedral celebrated by Cardinal Bernard Law.