After 20 years behind the big desk at City Hall, Boston Mayor Tom Menino will not seek a sixth term.
The 70-year-old Democrat, who was hospitalized for nearly two months in the fall, says his health played a role in his decision.
Reaction to the news is pouring in. Everyone, it seems, has a Menino story. After all, a recent poll by The Boston Globe showed nearly half of the city’s residents had met the mayor personally.
You’ll find reflections from the following Cog contributors below:
- Jarrett Barrios, CEO of the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts
- Tiziana Dearing, former president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston
- Wendy Kaminer, lawyer and social critic
- Renée Loth, writer and editor
- Eileen McNamara, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist (previously published)
- Tom Mashberg, freelance journalist
- Micho Spring, former deputy mayor of Boston
- Jane Swift, former governor of Massachusetts
- Thomas J. Whalen, associate professor of social science at Boston University
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A Fitting Swan Song For A Man Who Understood The Office, Always Did It His Way
By Micho Spring
When Tom Menino entered Faneuil Hall to announce he was not running again to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” he was making a statement not merely about his mayoralty -- for which he deserves every bit of the gratitude expressed toward him in the last few days -- but about the office itself. It’s something we should keep in mind as we weigh his successor: The next mayor, too, will do it his or her way. All Boston mayors do. That’s the form of government we’ve chosen.
Thanks to a group of prescient business, religious and political leaders who championed a new city charter in 1961, we have one of the strongest mayors constitutionally anywhere in the country. The mayor has the power to initiate spending, relegating the City Council to a secondary role of approving or disapproving the mayor’s agenda, but never replacing it. The mayor appoints without City Council approval and is responsible for all development and planning, holding him accountable for the city’s economy.
Mayor Menino understood the power to do things his way early in his first term when he staked his political capital on merging Boston City Hospital (BCH) and Boston University Medical Center. He anticipated the changes that were coming in health care far before anyone else and ensured that the mission of BCH -- taking care of the city’s most vulnerable -- was preserved for another generation. He took on the unions, privatized one-twelfth of the city’s work force and -- especially unheard-of -- asked the council, legislature and governor to support a bill in anticipation of, rather than in reaction to, a crisis. He got it done. Boston Medical Center stands today as a testament to the Menino way.
After 20 years in office, there are countless other examples: From the Main Streets program to the Innovation District, from apps that make city services more accessible than ever to the significant improvements in the schools. They add up to the inclusive, open, economically vibrant city we know and love today.
The secret to Menino’s success wasn’t sheer will, though that helped. It was that he understood the form of government under which he operated and worked those levers to maximum effect. The challenge moving forward is to identify a successor who appreciates the power that resides in the mayor’s office and is determined to use it to define our future and deliver on it. We need someone who is ready and willing to do it his -- or hopefully her -- way.
It’s Small Moments That Define This Political Giant
By Jane Swift
Mayor Menino leaves City Hall with a legacy of big accomplishments and countless small ones that touched the lives of all Bostonians.
Despite coming from different sides of the political aisle, different ends of the Commonwealth and even different generations, I was honored to serve alongside the mayor. I always appreciated his warmth, wisdom and fiery determination to do his best for the city he adores -- and the rare ability to disagree on policy or politics while maintaining respect and even friendship.
I have many profound professional memories of working with Mayor Menino: the response to 9/11, dealing with the subsequent fiscal crisis and (mostly) agreeing on education reform. But, like most people, my fondest memory of Tom was a personal one. Before the Patriots’ Super Bowl parade in 2002, the mayor invited me and my family to his office. Outside City Hall, thousands of ecstatic revelers were gathering to celebrate the end of a long sports championship drought. These are valuable political opportunities and he hadn’t been granted one in his 10 years as mayor. But, there he was, minutes before this big moment, with my 3-year-old daughter on his knee as she happily watched Sesame Street. It’s small moments that define this political giant.
Boston is fortunate to have had him as mayor and history will reflect well on his tenure. I am happy that he and Angela will have more time with their cherished family. I am certain that he will continue to positively impact the city and our state for years to come.
When It Came To Police Accountability, He Never Pushed Hard Enough
By Tom Mashberg
When Mayor Tom Menino took office in 1993 he inherited a police force mired in scandal and disrepute. Just look to the 1992 St. Clair Commission report, which excoriated the Boston Police Department for inept management and lax oversight of rogue officers.
Menino shunned celebrity police chief William J. Bratton for workaday leaders in his image like Paul Evans and Ed Davis. They kept crime stats low and their names out of the headlines.
There's no question Menino was hands-on when it came to crime prevention. He forged partnerships with neighborhood groups, ministers and business leaders, giving Boston a strong reputation for community policing and public safety. It's a proud legacy.
But one place where the famed urban mechanic should have spent more time "under the hood" is internal police discipline.
For almost 15 years Menino rejected outside review of police misconduct. It took the death of Emerson College freshman Victoria Snelgrove, shot by police during an unruly 2004 Red Sox victory celebration, for him to form the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel. The panel, where citizens with complaints can appeal internal BPD disciplinary rulings, has been toothless since its 2007 launch.
As my colleague Edward Mason and I laid out in CommonWealth, the BPD also allowed a vital oversight program for tracking problem officers to lapse -- with costly results. Boston has paid out $35 million in police lawsuits since 2000, with dozens more in the pipeline.
Menino pushed for high standards in city government. But when it came to police accountability, he never pushed hard enough.
Don’t Take This The Wrong Way, But We Could Have Done Worse
By Renée Loth
I was editor of The Boston Globe’s editorial page for three of Tom Menino’s re-election campaigns: in 2001, 2005 and 2009. Each time, despite any misgivings the editorial board might have had about the slow pace of improvement in the public schools or downtown development, and despite a vague sense of Menino fatigue, The Globe endorsed the man who bragged that he was “not a fancy talker” for another term. Ultimately, we knew we could do a lot worse.
That sounds like thin praise, but in a city few today remember for its corruption, clannishness, and crime, Menino’s simple commitment to running a clean, compassionate, open government trumped more grandiose claims to being “world class.” Menino was more progressive on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion rights, and immigration than one might expect by his resume alone. He broke a centuries-long choke-hold of Yankee or Irish leadership; some joked that he was Boston’s first mayor of color.
And he cared -- still cares -- about this city and its people more than for his own aggrandizement or ambition. In a quote from his first campaign in 1993, Menino said that if he hadn’t gone into politics he would have been a social worker. “All I’m really interested in is doing things that help people,” he said. Boston still could do a lot worse.
He Is Making The Right Decision, But We’ll Miss Him All The Same
By Tiziana Dearing
One of the things I've learned about Mayor Menino through the years is that he has a remarkable ability to make you feel multiple, and often conflicting, feelings at once. In my experience, they usually come in pairings of excited/frustrated, love/hate, honored/scolded or inspired/stressed.
Today’s announcement that the Mayor will not seek a sixth term is ultimate proof that he can make us feel this way. It’s a whopper day for happy/sad.
The happy is because it’s time. I’m happy that we will be able to establish the next generation of leadership in earnest. I’m happy for the mayor and for Mrs. Menino that he’ll go out on top and they can enjoy some golden years in health.
But, who will be as passionate about the kids? Who will be as incorruptible in such a corruptible role? How will we keep up the city's incredible momentum? In these crazy times, it is sad to lose someone we know we can rely upon so completely.
Good call, Mr. Mayor. But, oh, how we’ll miss you.
'Mumbles': An Ironic Nickname For A Man Who Always Put His Money Where His Mouth Is
By Thomas J. Whalen
I think the classy and gracious way Mayor Menino is departing City Hall speaks volumes about his tenure as mayor. Unlike his predecessor Raymond Flynn, who couldn’t get out of town soon enough to become a member of the Clinton Administration, Menino leaves like a reluctant lover. He would like to stick around, but realizes that unforeseen circumstances and the ravaging effects of time make that outcome impossible.
During his five terms in office, he has greatly enhanced our city’s infrastructure, expanded the tax base, lessened racial tensions, and provided a model for relatively clean government. James Michael Curley he is not! Along the way, he became a political pioneer of sorts, becoming the first Italian-American to become mayor, thus breaking the stranglehold Irish pols had on the office throughout most of the 20th century. His political success has given hope and encouragement to other ethnic and racial constituencies in town that they too will have an equally prominent voice in city affairs in the not so distant future.
Of course, Menino was never the most articulate fellow (he was derided by many in the media as “Mumbles”), but he showed once again that what a politician says is not nearly as important as what he does. Menino delivered on jobs, civic improvements, and public safety. Indeed, he was the real deal. When the late Kevin White was mayor back in the tumultuous 1970s, he promised to make Boston a world class city. It truly became one under Menino.
Before We Take Stock Of The Mayoral Candidates, We Should Take Stock Of Boston
By Jarrett Barrios
Over the next few days, Bostonians will shake their heads in wonder that the steady hand that has transformed our city will be ceding its grip, Mayor Menino retiring to his home in Hyde Park and, perhaps, moving on to other pursuits.
Over the next few weeks, speculation on successors will morph into a campaign the likes of which hasn’t been seen in our city for a generation. I was living on Columbus Avenue in Lower Roxbury the summer of the last real mayoral campaign -- the one to replace Ray Flynn. I still recall the sea of sign-holders along Massachusetts Avenue like nothing I’ve seen before or since.
Over the next few months, the political nabobs will choose sides, and the political commentators will give odds on the choices. We will be told who is viable, and who is just a pipe dream.
But before we take stock of the candidates, perhaps first, we should take stock of Boston. How the city has changed. How we have changed. And how these changes should guide our choice of a new mayor. Twenty years ago, the internet and smart phones were, for most of us, things of science fiction. Today, they are essential in our work, our schools, and our homes. What is the role of a mayor in making sure opportunities created by emerging technology are available to all our residents? What is the mayor’s role in nurturing our creative classes to develop new technologies? To support places like the Boston Innovation Center that bring together critical masses of innovators in our city?
Twenty years ago, our city’s civic life was a splendid array of characters recalling some Spencer Tracy film: priests, white ethnic politicians, old-school bankers in bow ties. As a city council aide in 1991, I remember a public hearing where one city councilor referred to an African-American colleague with the N-word. How far we have come. But what is the role of a mayor in knitting together a civic fabric that reflects the crazy quilt of groups who cohabit in our neighborhoods? That continues our evolution into a 21st century city? An international city?
Twenty years ago, many of our citizens were second-class citizens under law. Boston’s reputation as a socially-progressive city was challenged by a series of gay-bashings that left residents in fear. When a few of us gay residents met with then Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to talk about “community policing” for the gay community, there were snickers from some in his retinue. How far we’ve come. But what is the role of the mayor in making sure that each of us is accepted, respected and equal?
Like many of you, I am not looking forward to the ads. They’re hard to parse and make everyone seem like a champion. I mean, for example, who wouldn’t support marriage equality? But does that make every candidate equal? Or have they parroted the words we want to hear, but still march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade which bars gay organizations from participating?
My “two cents” is this: We may not have a chance at choosing a mayor for another 20 years. So let’s ask the hard questions over the next few months, and let’s pick the right candidate -- not just one who says the right things, but whose vision and authenticity will carry us forward, united and thriving.
For 20 Years, Boston Has Indeed Been His. But It’s Always Been Ours
By Wendy Kaminer
Aging is unfair. The flesh weakens no matter how strong the spirit remains. The wisdom of age (which is not universal) may come at the cost of mental acuity.
Aging requires and sometimes imposes humility -- a trait not generally associated with powerful politicians. Too many hang onto their jobs too long. (For the late Senators Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond, the U.S. Senate was a retirement home.) Good for Mayor Menino in not following their lead.
“It’s a sad day,” the Mayor acknowledged, but, he added wisely, “it’s a day that will always come in your career.’’
Menino was forced out by health problems, and forced retirement is wrenching, whether occasioned by age or economic decline. Unemployment for older workers (younger than Menino) is painfully high, and their crisis is our crisis too.
The Mayor’s retirement is not a crisis for the rest of us; it’s an opportunity. Thanking him for his service, let’s also thank him for retiring. And looking ahead, let’s not forget his imperfections -- his reputed bullying and his insensitivity to First Amendment freedoms.
I’ll remember Menino’s affection for the city and appreciation of diversity. I’ll also remember his effort to censor information at the Boston Public Library and his veiled threat to the owner of Chick-Fil –A.
His retirement will be “good for Boston,” as Mayor Menino, graciously observed. Presiding over it for 20 years, Boston has indeed been his city. But it’s our city too.
No One Gets To Be Mayor For Life
By Eileen McNamara
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was originally published on Nov. 29, 2012
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?
We’ll be adding more reflections as they come in.
Have you ever met the mayor? Share your stories and photos in the comments below.