The night before Mayor Thomas Menino announced he would not seek an unprecedented sixth term as Mayor of Boston, I received a phone call from Menino’s close friend and political ally, Senator Anthony Petruccelli.
“I’m shocked,” he said of the impending announcement. “This is the man I credit with helping launch my political career. He is the reason I got into politics.”
Petruccelli then poured over all the initiatives, directives and development project in Eastie that has Menino’s fingerprints.
“Think of it John,” Petruccelli said. “When he began the Main Streets program he put it here in East Boston first. Think of what that has down to revitalize the neighborhood. Then there’s the schoolyard initiatives here, the Early Learning Center, the elderly housing developments, the park improvements, the list goes on and on.”
Petruccelli then pointed to the Hope VI project to replace the aging and dilapidated Maverick Projects, a place his mother (and my own mother and father for that matter) lived in as kids.
“The Feds rejected his first application for a Hope VI Grant,” said Petruccelli. “He could have left it on the shelf to die but he kept pursuing it and he wanted it here in East Boston. He wanted to do something great and transform that affordable housing project on the waterfront forever.”
City Councilor Sal LaMattina said he was equally as shocked at the news. Both LaMattina and Petruccelli made their early political bones working for Menino.
“No one in the past and I can’t see anyone in the near future making the mark on East Boston that he did,” said LaMattina. “His legacy is everywhere in this community from schools, the housing to parks to public safety to non-profits, he was a champion of East Boston. He loved this community. He loved coming here, he loved eating here and most of all he loved the people here.”
But with an approval rating of over 70 percent and a better than 50 percent chance of beating any opponent that dared run against him in November, Menino, the only mayor a majority of Bostonians have ever known, gracefully bowed out of running for another term last Thursday at Faneuil Hall.
Over 400 people packed the hall to hear the words that some never thought Menino would ever utter.
In one sentence, “I will leave the job that I love” Menino changed the course of Boston politics forever.
The self-proclaimed urban mechanics strength over the past two decades was his ability to be everywhere in Boston. Over half of Boston residents said they have personally met the mayor and in neighborhoods across the city, Menino was a regular fixture at community events, schools, and ribbon cuttings and on hand to give his stamp of approval on development projects.
However, medical issues have plagued Menino since being elected to a historic fifth term four years ago.
“I am back to a Mayor schedule, but not a Menino schedule,” Menino told the crowd. “And I miss that. I miss hitting every event, ribbon cutting, new homeowner dinner, school play, and chance meeting. Spending so much time in the neighborhoods gives me energy. Being with our residents builds our trust. It may not be the only way to lead Boston, but it’s the only way for me.”
Throughout Boston, Menino’s legacy can be seen in every corner of every neighborhood.
“Jobs, graduation rates, construction, and credit ratings are all at record highs,” said Menino in his speech. “Population, school enrollment, crime rates, and housing all have hit their best mark in years. Boston’s neighborhoods are thriving, as they never have. Most important to me, we are a more open and accepting city. It was a new day when you picked a Mayor with Italian grandparents. It’s a much newer day now.”
Reports that Menino made the decision not to run for reelection while sitting alone at the kitchen table inside the Parkman House in Beacon Hill—the place he has lived while undergoing physical therapy after his latest set of ailments—has been widely reported. Menino made it clear no one person or one event forced him to make the tough decision not to run.
In the end it wasn’t that he couldn’t win, it was that he would win and have to govern the city over the next four years but not in the Menino-style Bostonians have become accustom to.
“Over the past few months, I have been weighing my own place in Boston’s bright future,” he said. “During that time, I have been blessed to regain so much of my health. My physical therapy is going great. I feel better today than I have in a long, long while. I can run, I can win, and I can lead, but not “in-the-neighborhoods-all-the-time” as I like.”
Already there is speculation of who will try to fill the very big void being left at City Hall. While Councilor John Connolly is already out there as a candidate, some believe there will be close to a dozen or so other candidates vying for the open seat.
Of this, Menino offered some words of caution to Bostonians.
I do plan to stay very engaged in Boston’s future. I am not retiring, but just turning the page on this chapter to the next,” he said. “I have no plans to pick the person to fill this seat. I just ask that you choose someone who loves this City as much as I have.”
Then he offered advice to anyone who wants to be Mayor of Boston.
“If you want to meet half the people in this city, all you do is go to their homes and their jobs and where they raise their families and where they strive to improve their neighborhoods and say this: Boston is the greatest city on earth,” said Menino in closing. “It is a buzzing, amazing, history-making place. It gets better every day because of you, and as long as you work together that will never change.”