Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Mayor Who Governed With His Feet

     To see and hear him, Tom Menino was all wrong for the job. Constantly compared to Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble and stigmatized by the nickname "Mumbles", Boston's longest-serving mayor looked as if he should've been toiling as a stevedore long ago before Boston's famed waterfront became dilapidated and irrelevant. When Mayor Raymond Flynn got tapped in 1993 to be our Ambassador to the Vatican by President Bill Clinton, Tom Menino was looked upon as a seat-warmer, a transitional Mayor until a real Boston Irishman would continue the line and be installed in the Mayor's Office. Then Menino did something no one expected: He ran for the office and won by a landslide. Then he did it again and again and again and again, never winning by less than 15%.
     Tom Menino died yesterday of cancer at the age of 71. And moreso than his fellow Democratic predecessors Flynn and Kevin White, he had the common touch. Whether he was in West Roxbury or the Greater Metro area of Boston, Menino was equally at home anywhere within the city limits and his unprecedented tenure as Mayor provided Boston with a comforting stability. That and a revitalized Boston waterfront that created countless jobs as well as a different Boston skyline than he had inherited in 1993.
     Menino once toyed with the idea of making a run for Congress back when Massachusetts still had 11 Congressional districts but that evaporated when jerrymandering phased out the 11th. Working his way up through the ranks, his star rose more rapidly than President Obama's when 1993 alone saw him skyrocket from Councilman to President of the City Council to Acting Mayor to Mayor.
     And he could easily be compared to other great mayors from eras past. As with Fiorello LaGuardia and the first Richard Daley, he was a man who seemed, contrary to outward appearances, born to be a big city mayor. And like the aforementioned, his temper would flash when he perceived his city was slighted or injured in any way. Even at a time when Boston's other machine Democrats would shy from courting demographics hostile to them, Menino would embrace them, even conservatives who could not argue how well he'd done for Boston's private sector. While shunning Bostons's annual St. Patrick's day parade because of the organizers banning the LGBT community, the Mayor proudly marched with them in their own parade and was right there in City Hall in 2004 for the marriage of the Goodridges, America's first legally married gay couple. 
     There was nothing flashy or slick about the five-term mayor. Menino was much more prone to keep his feet on Boston concrete than in the clouds above the Pru that dominates the Boston cityscape. Putting a workingman's ethic into governing one of the world's great cities, Hizzoner toiled for close to two decades, virtually his entire time in office, to realizing his dream for a revamped waterfront that had faded into shameful disrepair. Kevin White may have cleaned up the Charles River but it was Tom Menino who had restored Boston's once-famous waterfront to its former glory and had created countless jobs in the process.
     And like every iconic big city mayor, Menino was born in the city, growing to love it from childhood when his influential mother acted as "the Mother Teresa of Hyde Park", according to his memoirs. Menino made it a point to be there at virtually every dedication whether it be a new skyscraper taking its place among the others brought about by him or the grand opening of a local bodega.
     Indeed, even when his health began to decline a couple of years ago as the cancer worked its insidious way through his body, Menino insisted on pushing himself off his wheelchair and standing at a podium to honor during a ceremony the fallen victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, the podium hiding his Foley catheter and bag attached to his wheelchair.
     If it isn't a political bromide, it ought to be that a good mayor governs with his feet. Fiorello LaGuardia and Richard Daley understood that. So did Tom Menino and in the near future may Boston be so fortunate to have another similar to him.

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