In state of city speech, Menino stresses health reform, anti-gun task force

He entered on the crutches to the theme of “Rocky” and ended with a quippy admonishment to the audience to “get your cars off the street” ahead of the incoming snowstorm. And in between, Mayor Thomas Menino, recovering from knee surgery, reviewed the past year’s education gains and sketched out a laundry list of plans for the coming year.

The speech was not as lofty as last year’s inaugural’s address, and focused largely on localizing issues of education, health care and public safety.

Menino, pointing to the increase last year in homicides, said a second police academy class will be added to the current academy class of 71 recruits, and noted an anti-gun task force is working in collaboration with the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. “In Boston and around the country, we’ve seen too much mayhem from the wrong guns in the wrong hands,” Menino said.

The mayor also announced “Neighbor Care,” an initiative aimed at increasing the use of community health centers, with the Public Health Commission expected to join with hospitals and health insurance companies and the health centers in a bid to increase their hours and accessibility.

Standing in front of a packed Faneuil Hall, Menino singled out Azzie Young from the Mattapan Community Health Center and Frederica Williams of Roxbury’s Whittier St. Health Center. “They and their counterparts will lead again as we make sure our city’s tremendous healthcare resources reach all of our people.”

He also called for doubling the number of full-day school seats for four years in the next five years.

Menino’s proposal to create a local Group Insurance Commission in order to reform designs of municipal health care plans health care plans and cut costs – potentially saving as much as $17 million a year – came near the end of his speech. Unions say the move would weaken their power at the negotiating table.

Asked about the proposal, City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo said, “We need to focus on getting labor leaders in the same room as the administration.” Arroyo, a top supporter of unions, said the union “realizes something has to give.”

City Council President Stephen Murphy said health care costs, the fastest-growing part of the budget, will be on the City Council’s agenda. “It’s a process that’s going to play out,” he said.

Former City Councillor At-Large Michael Flaherty, appearing on Boston Neighborhood News’ “Talk of the Neighborhoods,” after the State of the City, said the speech glossed over the recent crime statistics. A former candidate for mayor and ex-prosecutor, Flaherty said putting more police officers cannot be the only solution, stressing drug treatment and recovery efforts.

In his speech, Menino said violent crime was down for the fourth year in a row. “But criminal acts in pockets of our city and the tragic increase in murders impact us all,” he said. “I expect recent strategies by Boston Police will continue to drive down crime and turnaround the trend in homicides.”

Menino put aside the crutches and stood for the entirety of the speech, with an empty chair behind him for him to brace himself if he needed to. Referring to last year’s speech and similar surgery, Menino quipped, “Like athletes who keep their lucky charges after winning games, I figured I would come back here in my knee brace once again.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: A PDF copy of the speech, as prepared for delivery, is available here.