BOSTON (CBS) – Former Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who held the office longer than anyone in the city’s history, died Thursday after a long battle with cancer. He was 71 years old.
Related Stories: Remembering Tom Menino
His longtime spokesperson Dot Joyce released this statement at 11:40 a.m:
“At just after 9:00 a.m. this morning, the Honorable Thomas M. Menino passed into eternal rest after a courageous battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his devoted wife Angela, loving family and friends. Mayor Menino, the longest serving Mayor of the City of Boston, led our city through a transformation of neighborhood resurgence and historic growth – leaving the job he loved, serving the city and people he loved this past January. We ask that you respect the families’ privacy during this time and arrangements for services will be announced soon.”
Photo Gallery: Remembering Mayor Tom Menino
In the beginning, he was just Tommy Menino from Hyde Park, the son of a factory worker, married to a local girl with two young kids.
But Menino had a special knack for making friends and keeping them.
Elected to a district seat on the Boston City Council, he spent a decade honing the prodigious work ethic that would become his trademark.
THE BIG BREAK
And in 1993 he caught his big break. Mayor Ray Flynn was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, making Council President Menino acting mayor, a springboard to election to a full term that fall.
The new mayor faced a full platter of problems. Boston schools were struggling. Persistent homelessness and crime plagued the city.
And Menino’s efforts to balance the budget caused sometimes ugly friction with local unions.
But year by year, street corner by street corner, Menino won the trust and affection of Bostonians, sharing the wealth of the downtown boom with long-suffering neighborhoods Menino never forgot, like Roxbury’s Dudley Square.
“I can remember as a young man coming here with my father and mother, shopping at Dutton’s and Blair’s and eating Whoopie Pies, going into Ferdinands Furniture, which was a great furniture store, but over the years that has left us and we want to bring those days back,” Menino said in March 2012.
An ardent preservationist, Menino made sure Fenway Park was safe from the wrecking ball.
PEOPLE WORKING TOGETHER
And he practiced what he preached about people working together, joining forces with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – never a Menino favorite – to found a national mayor’s coalition against illegal guns.
Menino’s typically Bostonian skepticism of the establishment was never far from the surface, even about the establishment he was a part of.
“Partisan politics, it’s a thing of the past,” he said in September 2012. “It’s about what they stand for and what they can do for the American people.”
And while he worked hard to bring the Democratic Convention to Boston in 2004, Menino enjoyed making fellow Democrats sweat out his endorsement, a tactic that both enhanced his power and focused their attention on his priorities.
The 2011 national debt ceiling showdown in Washington brought out the bipartisan critic in Menino.
“It’s totally irresponsible by both parties not to come to agreement on this issue,” he said in August 2011.
THE FAMOUS TEMPER
Menino’s famous temper often flared at the sight of what he saw as corporations placing profit over people.
When a transformer fire cut power to the Back Bay in 2012 for the second time in three months, the mayor minced no words.
“It’s complete arrogance on the part of NStar when it comes to serving their consumer and we’re going to ask the Public Utilities Commission to come down very hard on them, because they have to answer to the consumer,” he said in May 2012.
And when Niketown on Newbury Street ignored complaints about drug-glorifying merchandise on display, Menino let them have it.
“The arrogance of them, ‘We can do whatever we want and we don’t care about the public,'” he told reporters in June 2011.
Some wondered why he was so tolerant of the ‘Occupy Boston’ protesters who took over Dewey Square in the fall of that same year.
“There will be a day when they’ll have to leave their campsite, but right now I think what they’re doing is sending a loud and strong message to corporate America and to elected officials that we have to change the way we operate our government,” he said in October 2011.
MANGLING OF THE NAMES
But Menino’s anger was always balanced by humor.
“I’ve never been so happy in my life to see the media,” he told reporters after getting out of the hospital in December 2010.
And he usually joined in the laughter after yet another trademark mangling of the names of high-profile Boston athletes, like the time he called Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, “Wilcock,” while wearing a Wilfork jersey.
“Brady has those wide receivers out there,” he said during the Patriots playoff run in January 2012, “Grabowski (Gronkowski), Hernendez, (Hernandez), Wes Weckler (Welker), he has them all.”
HEALTH PROBLEMS BEGIN
But as he was breezing to an unprecedented fifth term, health problems began to take hold of the Menino story.
He had surgery on both knees, an elbow infection and a bad reaction to medication.
In the fall of 2012, a cascade of health problems put Menino in the hospital for eight weeks. There was speculation he might be up to another term.
And, in January 2013, in his first appearance after his release from rehabilitation, Menino hinted at the historic decision to come.
“I love this job. I’ll do it as long as I feel I’m effective. I’m not going to sit at City Hall and be a mayor as a lame duck. This city has so much potential. We’ve brought it to a point where it’s better than ever, but I’m not going to let people say, ‘Aw don’t do this, don’t do that.’ We still have challenges,” he said.
But Menino’s health challenges proved too burdensome. Almost exactly 20 years after Ray Flynn announced he was leaving City Hall, Menino came to Faneuil Hall to make an announcement of his own.
‘LEAVE THE JOB I LOVE’
“I’m back to a mayor’s schedule, but not a Menino schedule, and I miss that. I miss it in every event, ribbon cutting, new home owners dinner, school play, and chance meetings. Spending so much time in the neighborhoods gives me energy, being with our residents builds our trust. It may not be the only way to lead Boston, but it’s the only way for me,” he said on January 30, 2013.
“So I’m here with the people I love to tell the city I love that I will leave the job that I love.”
More than a few tears were shed that night, but fate wasn’t ready to let Menino rest.
When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line in April 2013, the mayor had to talk his doctors into letting him out of the hospital to help manage the response. And no one could dissuade him from the ordeal of rising to his feet to address the memorial service later that week.
That fall, a new mayor was elected. Like Menino and Flynn before him, it was a neighborhood kid from a working class background.
But Menino wasn’t done with civic activism.
A new job at Boston University gave him the chance to continue promoting the urban agenda.
THE CANCER DIAGNOSIS
Then, another blow in March of this year. Menino had cancer.
“I’ve beat other things back and I’ll beat this one. I’m a fighter,” he said at the time.
It would be a tough road ahead and the people of Boston once again showered him with support.
“That’s what’s different about Boston from any other major city in the country. We all know each other, we all care about each other. When something happens to somebody else we all rally. Look at what happened at the marathon bombing, we all rallied then,” he said in March.
Tom Menino was the undefeated champion of Boston politics. At times over the years, polls showed he was the most popular politician in the state of Massachusetts.
The biggest names of his time came courting, but he never ran for a higher office and never aspired to fancier trappings than his modest Hyde Park home.
He had what he wanted – a way to show his love for his city and its people.
“I’m just Tommy Menino from Hyde Park. I can’t tell you how humbled I am and how lucky I feel. I don’t need fancy words to say this to all of you – thank you, you pulled me through.”
Menino will lie in state at Faneuil Hall on Sunday. A private funeral service will be held on Monday.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Diane Stern reports on the death of Tom Menino
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