With his remaining time at city hall now numbered in days not months, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino on Tuesday morning reflected on his time in office, while outlining challenges ahead for the city he has led for two decades.
Menino said the “dramatic decline” in federal support for Boston will test not just city, but its non-profit and research industries. Menino also said he worried about the increase in income inequality and the rising cost of higher education, which has put a college education further out of reach for many students.
“The climate in Washington is poison and the problem-solving is rare,” Menino said.
Menino, who in January will give up the office he has held for the past 20 years, spoke to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce for the last time as mayor before a packed, reverential audience at the Westin Waterfront Hotel in the Seaport District that Menino has prided himself of reinventing.
In the shadow of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the ever-feisty mayor chided critics who once told him the facility would be a “white elephant” for the city, the same warning issued when he brought the Democratic National Convention to Boston. “They were wrong,” he said.
Challenging the business community to think about how it can combat income inequality in the city, Menino said, “If you aren’t talking about this in your boardrooms, you should be. If you aren’t worrying about what it means for your workforce and your customers, you are missing the boat.”
The mayor also made a final pitch, which had been anticipated by Boston Chamber of Commerce President Paul Guzzi. After Menino concluded his remarks by urging, “Please hire a summer jobs kid,” Guzzi presented Menino with a “significant check” worth $10,000 for the program next summer.
Menino used the speech to look back at accomplishments in the city, and look forward to Boston’s future with Mayor-elect Marty Walsh at the helm. Walsh did not attend the breakfast.
“Lots of things make a place a city - crowds, commerce, heights. But the thing that makes a city most is change, the fact that something new is always just around the corner,” Menino said, ticking through achievements such as guaranteed full-day kindergarten for all 5-year-olds, the construction of the Boston Convention Center, and the addition of office space and housing.
Since he won the city’s first open mayoral race in 20 years ago this November, Menino said his team has been working hand-in-hand with Walsh’s to ensure a smooth transition of leadership.
“I’ve told the mayor-elect that I’m here to help. But I won’t be hanging around to critique his work,” said Menino, who won’t fade into background after he leaves. The mayor is taking a job at Boston University leading a new institute on cities, insisting he has ideas on how to improve the city’s schools that haven’t been tried in the past.
“I’m not going to leave those kids,” he said.
From investing in green space to making Boston a welcoming city for gay couples who want to marry and immigrants looking to build a life, Menino ticked through his proudest accomplishments as mayor.
“We built as much new housing as Somerville has altogether, and added more affordable housing than Wellesley has of any type,” he said.
He also thanked the business community for their partnership over the past two decades.
“The business community is the strength of our city,” Menino said, crediting the chamber specifically for working with his administration to create youth summer jobs.
Angela Menino, who attended the breakfast with her husband, received a standing ovation.
The breakfast also drew a number of politicians, including City Councilors Bill Linehan and Ayanna Pressley, City Councilors-elect Josh Zakim and Michelle Wu, state Sen. Anthony Petruccelli and Reps. Aaron Michlewitz and Nick Collins, Massport CEO Tom Glynn, Treasurer Steve Grossman, and Democratic attorney general candidates Warren Tolman and Maura Healey.
“Thank you for 20 years. What a terrific run,” Guzzi said.
Robert Gallery, Massachusetts president of Bank of America, honored Menino in opening remarks for invigorating public education, renewing Boston’s neighborhoods and fostering innovative business.
“He has always been and always will be a champion for this city and is someone to whom we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitide,” Gallery said.
Starting in January, the chamber will be hosting Red Sox and Boston Globe owner John Henry, Attorney General Martha Coakley and U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy for similar speeches.