Menino upgrades marks for Patrick

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said this week that Gov. Deval Patrick, the state’s only Democratic governor since Menino took over City Hall in 1993, earned a grade of “C” for the first three years of his term before stepping his game up to a “B+” level the last four months.

Menino questioned whether any Democrat would challenge U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, and doubted aloud whether “the tsunami,” fortified by a $6 million campaign kitty, would be vulnerable in 2012.  Asked which member of his party would most likely run against Brown, who offered an endorsement during last year’s mayoral election, Menino chose U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, the Somerville Democrat who represents Boston’s northern swath and slotted second in the Senate special election primary.

“Who else do you have? I mean, just think about it,” Menino said, in a slight at his party’s political talent.

In a wide-ranging interview at the Dry Dock Café near the Black Falcon Terminal, Menino called Speaker Robert DeLeo’s gambling bill too restrictive against racetrack slot machines, predicted a “standoff” between Patrick and the Legislature over local aid levels in next fiscal year’s budget, and said he expected non-profits would accede to the city’s requests for increased payments in lieu of property taxes.

Menino, whose relations with Patrick have been mixed, said he thought Patrick had drawn fresh energy from January’s passage of an education law loosening union control of public school policies. “I don’t think he was focused,” Menino said. “I think he’s focused on his goals now, which is very key. … He’s speaking out on the issues, he’s available, that’s what’s so important. He’s really come alive. He’s everywhere.”

Of his less-than-glowing letter grade for the bulk of the governor’s term, Menino said, “He won’t like it, but that’s all right.”

Patrick aides declined comment.

Joined by press secretary Dot Joyce, and interrupted repeatedly by other diners with whom he appeared to share varying degrees of familiarity, Menino ate a lobster roll, sparing the bun, and picked at a fried calamari appetizer. He said he has not had a soda since Dec. 22. When a waitress asked if he wanted sugar in his iced tea, the mayor replied that he did not: “I’m sweet enough.” He repeatedly turned down the wait staff’s persistent dessert offers.

Menino, who has picked his spots around going public with his gambling views, said DeLeo’s bill should have permitted more than the 750 slot machines per facility it currently prescribes: “I don’t think 750 is a number that makes it work.”

An advocate for a casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, Menino said, “I don’t think it’s a slam dunk, but I think it’s an appropriate location.” Menino added that he was unsure how much the requisite infrastructure upgrades around a Suffolk Downs casino would cost.

City officials said a 4 percent reduction in the state’s chief local aid account would result in a loss of roughly $20 million in state aid to the capital. Menino said he is struggling with how to close libraries and community centers while preserving services.

“I know we will take another cut in local aid. The question is whether the governor will sign it,” Menino said. … “the governor’s made a pledge not to cut local aid, so there’s going to be a standoff here very shortly between the governor and the Legislature on that issue.”

Menino called Brown, who stunned Attorney General Martha Coakley in January, a formidable incumbent in 2012, and credited his work ethic. “He’s around. He’s around the state. I hear it. He’s here, there, and everywhere.”

Menino said. During the early stages of the Senate campaign, when Menino was campaigning for re-election, he said, “I thought he was running for city councillor of Boston.”

“It’s questionable whether [Coakley] could have done anything. It was like Deval Patrick four years earlier,” Menino said, doubting whether Democrats could mount a credible challenge to Brown: “Is there a Democrat out [there] that’s willing to take on the tsunami?”

With Brown not on the ballot for more than two years, Democrats have ample time to groom an elected official for the race, welcome a candidate from outside the establishment, or line up for a pitched primary battle to determine the nominee. So far, none has emerged as a clear pick.

Praising Capuano’s hard work, plainspoken style, and grasp of municipal policies, Menino said, “It’s still going to be hard to beat an incumbent who’s got $6 million in the bank right now.” Asked if Capuano could beat Brown, Menino said, “I don’t know.”