Way down at the furthest tip of Boston on Hyde Park’s Chesterfield Street last Friday, Mayor Tom Menino and 2,000 of his closest friends gathered for the 21st and final backyard BBQ at his home – a backyard BBQ that over the years has become a block party featuring a unique cross between family-friendly fun and political power brokering.
Last Friday was particularly special, though, as it was the last BBQ in Menino’s storied career – a political career that started and endured with such grass roots, people-oriented events.
Kids danced to Disney radio and chomped down ice cream cones.
There were the highest quality sausages and burgers.
Tonic flowed like wine.
Mayor Menino stood for hours and met regular people who lined up to shake his hand for what would probably be the last handshake during his mayoral tenure.
It was all a very sentimental scene, and most City Hall types and political operators were there as usual.
But what was remarkable was the landscape of regular people – the vast array of ages, races and ethnicities.
Elderly Haitian ladies from the local senior center ate sausages and chips on the mayor’s front steps.
Fourth-generation Irish Catholic mothers shared laughs with mothers whose parents immigrated to Boston from Nigeria; while at the same moment their kids ran hand-in-hand in perfect harmony to get their faces painted.
Off-duty Boston Police officers – and even Commissioner Ed Davis – chatted up young African American teens from the neighborhood in a friendly manner.
The “Irish” male mayoral candidate lightly campaigned over chocolate chip cookies with the “Italian” women voters.
There was no barrier that seemingly went unbroken. That, perhaps, has been the case in Boston for the last several years, but it was fully on display at the BBQ.
That – more than any development or monument or accomplishment – will be the lasting achievement of the Menino years.
One cannot forget how much at odds everyone was prior to and early on when Menino took the mayoral seat. The black community, the immigrant community, the Boston Police (i.e., Charles Stuart debacle), City Hall officials, and various neighborhoods were all pitted against one another in a very aggressive posture.
That’s all gone, and while the general mood of the nation has moved towards unity, Menino can take credit for ushering in a new way for all Boston residents. As one Hyde Park lifer said to me as I left, “Sure, 20 years ago, you would have had this kind of turnout for the mayor’s BBQ, but it would have all been white people and white politicians. You wouldn’t have seen this kind diversity and unity. It really is a testament to him.” I couldn’t agree more.