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Eileen McNamara: Forget re-election plans. It is time for Mayor Tom Menino to retire. He and Boston will both survive. Menino, pictured here on July 22, 2004, has been hospitalized since Oct. 26, 2012. (Josh Reynolds/AP, File)

Diabetes. Crohn’s Disease. Viral Infections. Blood clots in the lung. Pressure fractures in the spine. A five-week hospitalization that ends not with a cab ride home to Hyde Park but with a transfer by ambulance to Spaulding Rehab.

It is time for Tom Menino to retire. He and Boston will both survive.

The longest serving mayor in Boston’s history may well be the toughest, having battled back from myriad ills and multiple surgeries in the last decade. Bostonians who elected him to five terms have every hope he will do it again. But to what end does a man maintain his grip on political power when, a month from his 70th birthday, he faces the prospect of weeks more of in-patient rehabilitation? To what purpose do a city’s residents accept a municipal government operating on near automatic pilot?

Those who scoff at the prospective mayoral candidates beginning to stir have fallen victim to the well-cultivated fiction that Menino is irreplaceable. No one is.

That the mayor has chosen not to speak directly about his medical condition is an abdication of responsibility to the city no one doubts he loves. Doctors assurances that Menino is likely “to rebound” at some unspecified time fall somewhere short of full disclosure.

Menino’s unprecedented tenure has lent such an unhealthy air of permanence to his hold on City Hall that few doubt, even now, that he intends to seek a sixth term. It is a long way from his first mayoral campaign when he vowed to serve only two terms.

Instead, across 19 years, Menino has solidified his control over every aspect of public life in this city — the police department, the schools, health care. His unplanned medical leave may be giving those department heads the first breathing room they have ever had. It should also be opening discussion of the post-Menino era.

There are plenty of possible contenders in the wings should the mayor retire — Ayanna Pressley, Felix G. Arroyo and Tito Jackson on the city council; Jamaica Plain’s State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz on Beacon Hill; Dorchester’s Will Dorcena has already announced his candidacy. More will emerge if the mayor signals that he, too, recognizes that democracy thrives on new blood and fresh perspectives — as well as on experience.

Those who scoff at the prospective mayoral candidates beginning to stir have fallen victim to the well-cultivated fiction that Menino is irreplaceable. No one is.

It is worth remembering that the only man many Bostonians have ever known as their mayor was untested and unelected when he got his first taste of the job in July of 1993. As president of the Boston City Council when Mayor Raymond L. Flynn was named U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Menino automatically became acting mayor for four months.

That the mayor has chosen not to speak directly about his medical condition is an abdication of responsibility to the city no one doubts he loves.

Eight credible candidates competed for the two top slots in the preliminary election that September. Menino topped the ballot and then dispatched Dorchester State Rep. Jim Brett in the general election as decisively as he would all comers for the next two decades. Sadly, the mayor‘s talent for defeating his opponents has not been matched by a commitment to nurturing the next generation of political talent. (Yes, his political operation helped widen Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren’s victory but it mobilized only after Menino spent months either disparaging or ignoring her.)

The mayor’s charm and his strength has always been that this was the only job he ever wanted. The self-styled “municipal mechanic” never coveted an open U.S. Senate seat or climbed Beacon Hill for any reason other than to secure something for his city. It has been a hell of a run. But all runs end and the good ones end by choice, with dignity, when there is time left to enjoy family and make less taxing contributions to public life.

What Menino told his victory rally on the September night he won that preliminary election 19 years ago turns out to be the legacy of his long and distinguished career: “I am not a fancy talker, but I get things done.” What he said next of the city’s voters is also just as true today: “They want to move Boston forward, not cling to the past.”

Mayor Menino through the years

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  • XXX

    Menino will never give up his power until he is in a box underground

    • JonFrum

      Ding ding ding! We have a winner. Tommy’s cold hands will have to be pried from around the Mayor’s office washroom key. Even if he were totally healthy, what else would he do? They might find some place to hide him in a non-profit, but what organization would want him actually responsible for doing anything that mattered?

  • Pam

    I hope Menino recovers and runs again and wins again.He’s a great Mayor and,no, it’s not an illusion that he is still the best person we have for the job.

  • Finnegansmom

    The opening paragraph of this piece is quite dismaying and comes very close to advocating violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Chronic illness is a tough way to live but no matter how challenging it may appear, it is still possible for people with chronic conditions to perform superbly at their jobs. It is up to the Mayor to decide what is best for himself. It is up to his party to determine if he is the best candidate. It is up to the voters to decide whether his performance is up to their expected standards. Challenge his candidacy based on his performance, certainly but not his health status.

    • http://www.facebook.com/waynejwilsonjr Wayne Wilson

      It is not a Party issue. The elections in the City of Boston are non partisan. I don’t care for him and I know that he hates me but I hope he makes a full recovery so issues facing the City of Boston can be discussed fully.

    • JonFrum

      American’s with Disabilities Act? Really? How long would you pay someone if they couldn’t show up for work? The man is on death’s door, and you’re going to pay him until he kicks it? Bizarre.

  • electtomdooley.com

    Dooley: recent candidate for Senate: It is important to have contested elections, which obliges the incumbent to respond to the voting public and explain what they intend to do if re-elected, and why they need another term after two decades. For example, why does the Mayor require a study on the subject of restoring neighborhood schools, which must eventually occur regardless of the conclusion. No other city does this to their children, and the reasons for integration and desegregation no longer exist.

  • janet

    I thought it was in poor taste to devote an hour discussing the future of Mayor Menino while he is sick and has had such difficulty with his health. It came across to me that “the body was still warm,” so to speak, and already the political vultures were swooping in discussing who will take his job. He is a human being first. Who among us while sick would want others thinking about how they might take a coveted job that we may have without any concern for our recovery? Very callous and insensitive.

  • Sinclair2

    A person is only a mayor for lfe when they die in office.

  • Marcin
  • chaiomin

    There is no reason for him to leave unless he wants to or until he gets defeated, Boston has become a world class city during his tenure.

  • Renee Raymond

    When I saw the headline, I thought of the former mayor of Washington, DC, Marion Barry. He won three terms, I think. I believe he was then arrested for cocaine posession. His famous line “B*tch set me up!” He went to prison and was elected YET AGAIN when he got out of jail.

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