Tom Menino, Boston’s longest serving mayor who led the city in the aftermath of the marathon bombing and was said to have met literally half of the Hub during his tenure, died Thursday morning, mere days after announcing he was ceasing his cancer treatment. He was 71.
Menino, a Democrat and Hyde Park native, was first elected as mayor in 1993 and would go on to serve five terms. He did not seek re-election last year and Marty Walsh succeeded him.
Menino, as mayor, was known for his dedication to neighborhood constituent services, his ubiquitous presence in the city and his verbal gaffes.
After the marathon bombings, Menino, who had just had surgery and was hospitalized at the time, checked himself out of the Brigham & Women’s to lead the city in its recovery.
“It had a calming influence on so many Bostonians,” said City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who ran against Menino in the 2009 mayor’s race and lost. “It was just a testament to his courage, to his fortitude…Tom Menino is a legend. Tom Menino is Boston.”
The city’s first Italian-American mayor, Menino was known as a proponent of gun control and a defender of LGBT rights. He refused to march in the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade because the organizers did not allow LGBT groups to march. He also said he would work to stop Chick-fil-A from opening a store in the city in response to that group’s opposition to same sex marriage.
His tenure saw the completion of the Big Dig, the country’s largest public infrastructure project that was much delayed and over-budget. He fostered what became known as the Innovation District, an area in and around the Seaport in Southie intended to facilitate entrepreneurship.
Before he was elected mayor, Menino served as a city councilor for a decade. In his forties, while on the council, he earned a bachelor’s degree in community planning from UMass Boston. He was city council president when then-Mayor Ray Flynn was tapped for an ambassadorship to the Vatican. Menino ran in a subsequent special election, won, and would go on to serve as the city’s executive for 20 years.
Thursday, longtime City Councilor Charles Yancey was asked if he envisioned Menino becoming mayor when he first was elected to the council.
“No and I don’t think he would have either,” he said.”But God works in mysterious ways and under his stewardship, Boston has become much more stable.”
City Councilor Tito Jackson, speaking in front of City Hall yesterday, recalled the mayor’s work rate.
“He went to every ribbon cutting. I was running at large…and he took me to this martial arts studio ribbon cutting in West Roxbury. There were 26 people there,” he said. “But just that he would take the time to give them the time and respect…He showed through hard work you can impact the world.”
Current Boston Mayor Marty Walsh praised Menino on policy issues ranging from the environment to crime prevention and said he held a “profound understanding of the direct and immediate impact that municipal government can have on people.”
He added, “Because of his leadership, Boston is a better place today.”
City Councilor Matt O’Malley said he was heartbroken, “as I think all Bostonians are.”
“He was one of the most effective mayors in history. This guy was a giant.”
He said Menino made the city more inclusive and financially stable.
“It seems unfair for a guy who gave so much to this city not to be able to enjoy retirement,” he said. “His legacy is in every neighborhood. The unprecedented growth in the city under his stewardship is nothing short of remarkable.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, who worked on Menino’s campaign for City Council, said Menino knew “every block of every neighborhood as well as he knew his own back yard and he treated them with the same love and care.”
“For the city he loved so much, this is a death in the family,” said Conley.
Gubernatorial candidates Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker, meanwhile,have both suspended their campaigns for the day out of respect for Menino.
On Oct. 23 Menino, who had been in the midst of a book tour, announced he would be stopping his cancer treatment.
Information from the State House News Service was used in this report.