BOSTON (CBS) – The first time I can recall interviewing Tom Menino was in the summer of 1993, when acting Mayor Menino was battling a slew of candidates for the office.
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I was working on a story about the candidates and new ideas for urban governance. I had sent an intern into the Boston Public Library to search the periodical index for stories about innovative approaches to city issues around the country (remember, kids, this was pre-internet). She came out after an hour with a sheaf of ten clippings. I then went to each of the mayoral candidates, articles in hand, and asked them what new ideas they had, waving the packet in the face of those who came up empty to demonstrate how easy it was to come up with some.
A couple of the candidates had done their homework. Most had not. Menino was initially tongue-tied, but when I brought out the clippings, he smiled. “Gimme those,” he said, and snatched them from my hand.
Photo Gallery: Remembering Mayor Tom Menino
Fast forward to the summer of 2001. Back at work after a family trip to Amsterdam, I was raving to Menino about the outdoor café scene there, a tremendous urban amenity in a city with a climate comparable to Boston’s.
“Why don’t we have more outdoor seating here?” I asked the mayor.
Menino was defensive. “They can have it if they want,” he said. “They just have to apply for it.”
When I suggested to Menino that there must be some kind of impediment at play, he waved me off. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Three months later, I picked up the paper and saw that Menino was proposing changes to what he called “outdated” city ordinances governing outdoor seating.
Menino’s critics always maintained he was too thin-skinned, arrogant, a bully lacking expansive vision. Perhaps they had cause; or maybe it was just agreement with their vision he lacked.READ MORE: Massachusetts State House Remains Closed To Public Weeks After COVID Restrictions Lifted
But the man I covered for more than two decades was unrecognizable in their critique.
He was totally devoted to his job and to the well-being of the city’s residents. He never sought higher office, or even fantasized about it, as far lesser politicians around here routinely do. Much to Angela Menino’s dismay, he couldn’t stand being away from Boston too long, cutting numerous vacations short to rush back to handle one crisis or another.
His “vision,” described to me during a vain, failed attempt a decade ago to shadow Menino through an entire 18-hour workday, was to make the city’s neighborhoods “a place where you can afford a decent place to live, raise a family with decent schools and playgrounds, where you can shop and go out to eat and have a good time without ever leaving the neighborhood.”
The printed word can’t capture the distinctive Menino syntax, of course. But what might have been an embarrassing speech impediment to some became a potent political weapon in Menino’s street-smart hands. Menino knew some considered him a dim bulb because of the way he spoke, and took special pleasure in their disbelief as he compiled an unparalleled record of political success.
When a politician as dominant and sui generis as Menino passes, we often refer to it as “the end of an era.”
But watching Mayor Marty Walsh keep to something resembling a Menino schedule of constant movement around the city, as scores of Menino-era holdovers run the show back at City Hall (as Walsh met with Menino in City Hall the day after the election, he might as well have said: “Gimme that”), you can see that the Menino era isn’t over.
It endures, in the form of a new, young mayor’s commitment to Menino-style inclusion and populism, in the bright economic prospects of our booming old city, in those revitalized, livable neighborhoods, and in the permanent gratitude most city residents hold for the man who sank his life into making theirs better.
Listen: Jon and Joe Mathieu discuss Tom Menino’s legacy
You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.
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