Panel at JFK Library hails Mayor’s ‘people’ side

Mayor Menino shows Red Sox and Globe owner John Henry his baseball bat cane. Photo by Tom Fitzsimmons

Mayor Thomas Menino probably called the 24-hour constituent service line more than most Boston residents, according to Peter Meade, a Dorchester resident and the head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. On the stage at the JFK Library Tuesday night, Meade mimicked Menino on his cell phone, saying, “Yeah, the streetlight at Bowdoin and Cambridge Street. Yeah, it’s out. I called yesterday and it was out. It better not happen tomorrow.”

Whether it was that or graffiti or a pothole, Meade said, the mayor was focused on what mattered to constituents and their quality of life in a big city. “Talking to the police commissioner about breakings and enterings, or a pocketbook being stolen, doesn’t seem like the kind of high and mighty thing that mayors want to do,” Meade said. “He’s done it all the time because I think he understands how people live, where they live, and what are the kind of problems they deal with.”

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory was also on the panel that was paying tribute to Menino’s 20 years in office. Rev. Liz Walker, the former television anchor, moderated a discussion that also included Jack Beatty, the James Michael Curley biographer who is writing a book with Menino.

McGrory recalled writing a line about Menino that he thought was clever: “ ‘Some critics believe he can’t see the metropolis for its people.’ And over the years what I have learned is the metropolis is its people,” McGrory said. “And the mayor already knew that.”

Beatty said Menino’s style also conveyed a message of respect. “If it’s the pothole that’s been knocking hell out of your tires, that’s the pothole that really matters to you,” he said. “And to have somebody say ‘because it matters to you it matters to me,’ I think that says ‘I respect you.’ ”

Asked when was the toughest time for Menino to be mayor, Meade said it was earlier this year when Menino was in a hospital bed recovering from a surgery for a broken leg and he was told about the Boston Marathon bombings. The mayor checked himself out of the hospital and headed down to the scene. McGrory said the toughest time was when he was deciding whether to run for a sixth term earlier this year. “Tom Menino hated to let go because he loved the city,” the Globe editor said.

Menino, who has a month left in office before Mayor-elect Marty Walsh takes the reins from him, took all this in from the audience, sitting with his wife Angela and Vicki Kennedy, the late senator’s widow, before briefly taking to the podium. “This is probably the longest wake I’ve ever gone to. … It started in March,” the mayor quipped.

He thanked the panel and then, in mock gruffness, turned to the newspaperman who has covered him for more than over two decades. “McGrory,” he said. “Hmmph. We have 34 days, pal.”