Mayor Thomas Menino moved quickly across the red carpet on Tuesday night, his cane barely keeping up with his legs as he headed to the podium just below Faneuil Hall’s main stage. “I have some words of wisdom,” he said in a jovial tone, after the lengthy applause had died down. “You don’t want to hear my words of wisdom, do you?”
There was some truth in that quip: The focal point of the night – and the focus of the media coverage leading up to his State of the City address – was how Menino would look after hospital stays, various illnesses, and physical therapy. Whether he could make his way down the carpet, whether he could stand throughout the speech, whether it meant he’s running for a sixth term.
The answers were yes, yes, and probably.
Congressman Stephen Lynch, among others, acknowledged the higher interest in the room in the visual than the aural, saying there was some “suspense” and adding, “I’m happy to have him back.”
The mayor’s speech heavily promoted previously announced accomplishments, much like the one in 2009, the last mayoral election year. But the Tuesday night address was more optimistic than in 2009, when a harsh economic downturn loomed.
“Our progress is real,” Menino said, pointing a reduction in violent and property-based crime by 28 percent over seven years and the construction of 2,000 housing units in Boston. “Our future is bright. The state of our city is striking, sound, and strong.”
The mayor highlighted his push for lifting the cap on in-district charter schools, developing a million square feet of city-owned properties into “homes for middle class families,” and reforming gun controls. He also announced a pilot project with local universities to provide free online course at community centers – “the start of a new $30 million investment as we continue to make all of our schools quality schools” – and several programs to help Boston women achieve pay equity, including “Women on the Main,” which will help women in Main Streets districts to network.
State Treasurer Steve Grossman, who attended the address, said he interpreted the speech to mean the five-term mayor remains in love with his job and wants more time to put his ideas into practice. “He’s got the vision and the energy to lead this city for a long time,” Grossman said.
Menino has not announced he is running for another four-year term, and has several months before he has to declare his intentions.
“It took a lot of doubt away from him,” said state Rep. Marty Walsh, who represents Dorchester. “I think that doubt is gone.”
District 7 City Councillor Tito Jackson called the speech “upbeat” and “aggressive.” “When you look at taking on pay disparity between men and women in Boston, that’s a big deal,” he said.
City Councillor At-Large John Connolly praised the speech but added that questions remain about follow-up, particularly when it comes to the city’s school system. “He’s a master at big announcements in speeches like that,” he said. “I think the bigger questions are about action following rhetoric but he certainly knocked it out of the park last night.”
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat who represents parts of Dorchester and Mattapan, said she viewed the mayor’s address as a “governance speech,” with its focus on equal pay for women and low interest loans for child care. And, she added, that was exactly what was needed on Tuesday night. “Folks are weary of the constant elections,” Chang-Diaz said, referring to John Kerry leaving his US Senate seat for the State Department and state Sen. Jack Hart stepping down for a top job at a law firm.