Boston bids farewell to its greatest mayor

Out of America: Tom Menino bows out after 20 years of serving the city, during which he turned around its fortunes in typically unassuming style

Share
Related Topics

I live in Washington, but Boston, I have to admit, is my favourite American city. It's a liberal, cosmopolitan metropolis, but not as overpowering as New York. It's loaded with history, via a mix of old New England and vibrant immigrant neighbourhoods. Then there's the academic leavening, from Harvard and MIT, just across the Charles river. The climate is agreeably rigorous, with virtually none of DC's appalling summer humidity. The sports teams (usually) are terrific. So forgive me if I devote this column to Tom Menino.

Aged 70 and plagued by various ailments, Menino announced last week he would not seek re-election as Boston's mayor when his current term expires at the end of this year. He wasn't what you traditionally associate with the city – and certainly not of "Brahmin" stock, the blue-blood caste, many of them descended from the first settlers who once ran Boston as their birthright.

Over the years the Brahmins were supplanted by the Irish (as in Fitzgerald and Kennedy), who from 1930 would provide every Boston mayor until Menino came along in 1993, the first Italian-American ever to hold the job. And he held it for 20 years, longer than anyone before him; longer than John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, JFK's maternal grandfather; longer even than James Michael Curley, Fitzgerald's rascally successor, who served four separate mayoral terms, during the last of which he spent five months in jail for fraud.

But Tom Menino wasn't cut from that sort of cloth. He was so popular for so long because he was unassuming. Other big city US mayors might be tipped for national office, such as New York's Michael Bloomberg (a Bostonian by birth) or Julian Castro of San Antonio, who some predict will be America's first Hispanic president. Not Menino.

Like most mayors who stick around, he developed a formidable political machine. But his never made headlines like the dynastic Daley operation in Chicago, or drew controversy akin to that attracted by Marion Barry, elected mayor four times here in Washington, the last in 1994 even after he had spent six months in federal jail for cocaine offences. Menino's biggest brush with a national issue came last year, when he vowed to keep the southern restaurant chain Chick-fil-A out of Boston because of its owner's campaign against same-sex marriage – which Massachusetts had been the first state to legalise in 2003.

Instead Menino was what one Boston writer called an "urban mechanic". He did what mayors are meant to do. He made sure that the streets were clean, snow was cleared, potholes fixed and crime was fought. He was also a great one for planting trees, in his campaign to make Boston the greenest city in America.

Above all, he believed in Boston's tapestry of neighbourhoods, "neyboods" as Menino would call them in his inimitable mumble, his mouth functioning like a silencer on a car exhaust. Menino might have shunned the national stage, but there was no ribbon-cutting too minor to attend. During his 20 years in city hall, it was estimated he had met half the entire Boston population of 625,000. "All politics is local," Tip O'Neill, the Boston Irishman who became House Speaker, once said. For Menino, politics wasn't just local. It was personal.

In the process, he presided over the transformation of the city. The Boston he took over was licking its wounds over the collapse of the dotcom boom. The one he will hand on to his successor is a gleaming powerhouse that recovered from the 2008 economic and financial crash as quickly as anywhere in the country.

It didn't do Menino any harm that he was around when the sports teams he so ostentatiously supported went on a tear. In the space of a decade, Boston won championships in all four major US sports, an unprecedented feat. The Celtics won the NBA title; the Bruins lifted ice hockey's Stanley Cup, while the Patriots were winning the Super Bowl every other year. Best of all, the Red Sox in 2004 overcame the hated New York Yankees on their way to the World Series, finally breaking the curse supposedly hanging over the team since 1918.

Menino's weird way with words was also an asset. His thick Boston accent and misfiring metaphors (he once described the shortage of parking in the city as "an Alcatraz round my neck") were positively endearing. Many who dealt with Menino were so blinded by the funny talking that they missed the razor-sharp political mind behind it.

All political careers end in failure, Enoch Powell once said. Not Menino's. He leaves with a city's gratitude and a 75 per cent approval rating. "Just think about what I can do in nine months," he told a wildly cheering audience on Thursday in his resignation speech. "I don't need voters, anything. We can have some real fun." Tom Menino deserves it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Psychology Teacher

Main Teacher Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Teacher of Psychology An en...

International Promotions Manager - Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: A global entertainment busi...

Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: This new opportunity has responsibilities des...

Geography Teacher

£19200 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song  

Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show just how skewed people’s priorities are

Nigel Farage
A Liberian-American mother has helped launch a campaign to stop the stigmatisation of those from countries affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa  

Ebola in the US: Are we letting fear win?

Idris Bello
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?