Mayor Thomas Menino was honored Saturday in a ceremony at the historic First Parish Church, one of the venues that helped launch his 20-year term in City Hall.
The church’s “20 Bells for the Mayor” fundraising gala attracted a crowd of over 100 people to celebrate the rededication of the church’s steeple and to hear from the mayor. Former state Sen. Jack Hart of South Boston emceed the event and offered memories of Menino’s time in office and service to the community.
The auditorium of the church served as the venue for the first debate of the 1993 mayoral election, the race that Menino won to become mayor in his own right after succeeding Mayor Raymond Flynn on an acting basis. President Clinton tapped Flynn as his ambassador to the Vatican, and in the final election, Menino faced off against Dorchester state Rep. Jim Brett.
“My first debate was right here. Right here,” Menino said while gesturing to the exact location of the debate stage from 1993.
Menino recalled that during the debate between the twelve candidates for mayor, the crowded stage almost caused a problem between him and former City Councillor and City Clerk Rosaria Salerno.
“Councillor Salerno was sitting next to me. She almost pushed me off the stage there. I’ll always remember that,” Menino said.
Menino praised the church’s restoration and the improvements made by the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood.
“It’s not about me today, it’s about the church, the First Parish Church. That steeple going up, a beacon of hope for this area,” Menino said.
Menino said he will still be around the neighborhoods after he leaves office. “I won’t leave Bowdoin-Geneva, that’s for sure,” Menino added.
“Don’t sell Bowdoin-Geneva short,” Menino said, “it’s come a long way and it has a long way to go.”
During the event, the church bell was rung 20 times to honor Menino’s 20 years in office. A new light now serves as a beacon shining from atop the steeple’s belfry. As the bell rang out its 20th call, the crowd burst into applause for Menino and his wife Angela, who sat beside him.
Menino and his wife sat in two large chairs at the front of the hall while greeting friends. The long line of well-wishers lead Menino to say he felt like Santa Claus receiving Christmas wishes.
Much was made of Menino’s new baseball bat- cane, which carries his name and inscribes the years the Red Sox won the World Series. Hart remarked that Menino used the cane to jokingly whack WBZ political reporter Jon Keller during a recent press conference for asking a tough question.
Rev. Arthur Lavoie, the First Parish’s minister, welcomed well-wishers to the building, which was built in the 1890s to replace the original puritan meeting house which held English’s settlers’ first town meetings in Dorchester in the 1630s. The Unitarian church is undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation, which included the removal, refurbishment and replacement of the building’s steeple. The steeple was removed in 2006 and replaced on top of the church earlier this year.
Several local elected officials, including City Councillors Frank Baker and Ayanna Pressley, Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry and Rep. Carlos Henriquez attended the event. Councillor-elect Michael Flaherty and former Councillor Maureen Feeney were also in the audience.
On Sunday, the congregation dedicated the redone steeple during the 11 a.m. service. Lavoie thanked members of the team who worked to restore the church at the Saturday event. The project is currently in the third of five planned phases of renovation.