Thomas Menino, a self-described “lunch bucket guy” who rose from his roots in Hyde Park to dominate Boston and Massachusetts politics as the capital city’s mayor for 20 years, has passed away after battling cancer. He was 71.
Elected to the city’s top job in 1993 after spending four months as acting mayor, Menino burnished a reputation as a tireless worker and a chief executive focused on delivering neighborhood services.
“Kevin White was the city-builder, gazing out of his fifth-floor window at cloud-topped towers,” a 1994 Boston Globe magazine profile of Menino said.
“Ray Flynn was the racial healer, jogging through the neighborhoods in search of social and economic justice. Tom Menino is the urban mechanic, cruising the streets with his fix-it list, wanting to know why the grass hasn’t been mowed at Garvey Playground.”
Jack Beatty, who co-authored “A Mayor for a New America” with Menino, said the former mayor focused on the issues that mattered to local voters. “If it’s the pothole that’s been knocking hell out of your tires, that’s the pothole that really matters to you,” Beatty said during a 2013 forum on Menino at the JFK Library in Dorchester. “And to have somebody say ‘because it matters to you it matters to me,’ I think that says ‘I respect you.’ “
Menino had spent a decade on the Boston City Council, and served as its president at an opportune time: When President William Clinton tapped Ray Flynn for a Vatican ambassadorship, Menino ascended to the post of acting mayor and beat out Dorchester Rep. Jim Brett in the special election that followed months later.
Appearing on C-SPAN in 1997, Menino referred to himself as a “old-time” Democrat, adding, “I believe in education, a good family life, and jobs and keeping the crime down in the city.”
By his own account, Menino benefited from being mayor during the city’s “best days.” When he left office in January 2014, Boston’s population was increasing as a construction boom rippled through its neighborhoods, particularly in one of the areas he had pushed to revitalize in his fifth and final term, the seaport.
But he was also the mayor during some of its darkest days, such as when two terrorists bombed the 2013 Boston Marathon, and when police in 1994 mistakenly raided the home of a 75-year-old retired minister, causing him to vomit and die.
Both instances were recounted in his book, which was released in mid-October. Menino announced one week ago that he had halted treatments for advanced cancer and suspended his book promotion tour.
During Menino’s mayoralty, Massachusetts saw seven U.S. senators and five governors.
“Menino was always that one constant,” former Dorchester Rep. Marty Walsh said before he was elected as Menino’s successor in November 2013.
“He’ll always be the mayor of Boston,” said Walsh, 47.
Throughout his tenure, Menino struggled with health issues, including Crohn’s disease, his weight, and high blood pressure.
“Even as I got big stuff done, the quality of my face time with residents deteriorated,” he wrote in his book, noting that he spent much of his last four years in office with a cast or cane. “On the occasions when I did get ‘out there,’ people were too nervous about jarring my cane to crowd around me, which left me frustrated that I couldn’t connect in the old way.”
He added: “It was time to go. Yet, hoping for a return of my old energy, and to preserve my power, I could not let go.”
Menino announced he wasn’t running for a sixth term in March 2013, setting off the first open race for mayor in 30 years.