“I’m Tommy Menino from Hyde Park.” Those were the most revealing words in Mayor Menino’s recent State of the City address. They captured the essence of the man who has ruled the city now for 20 years.
Before ascending to the office by chance when Ray Flynn was appointed ambassador to the Vatican, he probably never believed he would get his dream job. Others with more charisma but less luck had tried and failed.
Unnoticed and underestimated, the kid from Hyde Park finally had the opportunity to display his political talent, determination, and street smarts in the only job he ever wanted. For him, being mayor was not a way station to higher office; it was his vocation.
All his considerable energy and attention were focused on being the chief executive of the city he loved. No one would ever doubt his commitment. He was everywhere and knew everyone. Nobody understood the roots of political success or practiced them with more zeal than the accidental mayor.
Humility came easy to him in those early years. He was not a star athlete or gifted student. His introduction to politics was behind the scenes where he was inconspicuous and unappreciated. But he toiled in the minors, watching and learning but never expecting to make it to the show. The pedestrian life of a city councillor was likely to be his highest achievement.
Fate intervened and he was catapulted into a role for which many thought him unsuited. They were wrong. His achievements are impressive and he will likely be remembered as the most successful mayor in the city’s history.
There are two important qualities that he brought to the job. He loved the city, its neighborhoods, downtown, parks, and people. He is able to convey that impression by his constant efforts to improve the quality of life of city residents.
The powerful can easily be overwhelmed by the attention and deference they receive. It is a struggle to retain one’s perspective and humility under such circumstances. Some start to believe the accolades and lose their balance. They forget who they are and where they came from.
I expect that during his recent hospitalization, the mayor had the time to reflect on the arc of his life. His thoughts probably were not of the powerful, confident, accomplished, and effective person he had become, but of Tommy, the kid from Hyde Park who lived his dream.
Recovering from a long illness, he had the time to put things in perspective, perhaps realizing that on the day he is before the “pearly gates,” St. Peter will not be impressed with his record as mayor or the many honors he has received.
Instead, he will see Tommy Menino from Hyde Park, a kid who cared and made the most of an opportunity granted by the grace of God. That should be enough to gain him admission.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.