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Quincy Takes a World View

Quincy Takes a World View 
Boston Globe
October 18, 1997

By Theo Emery, Globe Correspondent 

City councilors in Quincy, a city traditionally more concerned with
potholes and pocketbooks than foreign policy, will cast their eyes overseas
Monday when they vote on a proposed ordinance targeting the government of
Burma, which has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations. 

If the selective purchasing ordinance passes, the vote will mark this
working-class city's first sojourn into the international human rights
arena. It will also vault Quincy ahead of Brookline and Newton as the first
municipality to follow the state government's example in sanctioning
corporations doing business in the southeast Asian nation. 

"The whole effort was a genuine grass-roots effort," said Councilor Paul
Harold, sponsor of the proposal. "We can help a country that is in need of
help. I had a chance to visit South Africa during apartheid, and I'm very
much aware of the impact of leading the way for other communities and
building the case for change in Burma."

While acknowledging that his South Shore city of 87,000 has typically "not
been on the cutting edge of radical social change," the Rev. Sheldon W.
Bennett, pastor of the United First Parish Church, said residents are
keenly aware of the city's historical role in fostering democracy. 

Early US presidents John Adams and son John Quincy Adams were both born in
Quincy and were members of First Parish Church's congregation. A dozen or
so members of that congregation have played pivotal roles in shoring up
support for the Burma ordinance. 

"Quincy stands for liberty and institutions of democratic government," said
Bennett. "It's important that we take a leadership role in upholding those
values. The City Council is responding to issues that touch on those themes."

Since 1988, Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, has been ruled by the
State Law and Order Restoration Council, the ruling junta that annulled a
1990 landslide election of the opposition National League for Democracy,
headed by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Since then, the council's
well-documented human rights abuses have made Suu Kyi an international
symbol of human rights and democracy. 

Quincy's support for democracy in Burma has surprised even boycott
advocates. After presenting councilors with a petition of more than 1,000
names, they saw the ordinance win preliminary approval Oct. 6 on an 8-1
vote. It is widely believed the ordinance will pass on Monday, and Quincy
Mayor James Sheets said yesterday he will sign the law when it reaches his

Councilor at Large Tim Cahill cast the only vote against the ordinance. He
said it runs contrary to the sentiments of this solidly Democratic,
socially conservative city. Cahill noted there are more than 250 companies
doing business in Burma and Quincy contracts yearly with some 13,000
vendors. This could create a "logistical nightmare," he said, that will
distract officials from the more mundane business of running the city. 

"It's a feel-good measure," said Cahill. "It's not what I was elected to
do. When small city governments start to act like they know better than the
president or the State Department, people laugh at that. We have to look
out for our own citizens. I don't see how this really is going to help the
people of that country."

Unlike the statewide selective purchasing law, which financially handicaps
but does not completely exclude companies competing for contracts, the city
ordinance would deny contracts to companies that are unable to present
documentation certifying that they have no investment or business in Burma.
Among companies that could not do business with Quincy if the ordinance
passes are Texaco and Atlantic Richfield. 

Most advocates of the ordinance agree it is largely symbolic, with minimal
financial impact. But with Quincy poised to join 12 other US municipalities
that have leveled sanctions against Burma, the true impact of such laws is
as an example for other communities, said Simon Billenness, senior analyst
at Franklin Research and Development Corp., a Boston investment firm, and
an advocate of Burma sanctions. 

Newton's Board of Aldermen is to discuss its own selective purchasing
ordinance on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Brookline selectmen unanimously
approved their own version of the selective purchasing law, clearing the
way for delegates to Brookline's Town Meeting to vote on the law Nov. 4. 

"This clearly shows that sanctions on Burma have solid support in the Main
Streets of Massachusetts," said Billenness. 

© Copyright 1997 Globe Newspaper Company.