Menino’s way: It worked

In Mattapan, 2010: The mayor's playful side came out often. Here, he's busting chops as workers paint a sidewalk. "Hey, ya missed a spot." Photo by Bill ForryIn Mattapan, 2010: The mayor's playful side came out often. Here, he's busting chops as workers paint a sidewalk. "Hey, ya missed a spot." Photo by Bill Forry

Mayor Thomas M. Menino died last Thursday at his home in Hyde Park after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 71 years old.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, the news of Menino’s death was a sad moment for any objective Bostonian who has a pulse and a heart. Menino’s retirement brought with it the promise of further contributions to the city’s civic life and — more importantly— to his family, who loved him so dearly.

The Reporter family extends its deepest sympathies to the entire Menino family and in particular to his wife Angela; son Tom Menino, Jr.,; and daughter Susan Menino-Fenton, who, along with her husband, Billy Fenton, and their children, who live in Dorchester, have contributed mightily in their own right to this community.

Tom Menino’s legacy in this neighborhood will be long lasting. The mayor, it was often joked, would show up for the opening of an envelope. So it was that — over his 20-year run in the city’s top office— he came to know so many of us by name and face. His connections to people cut across social strata and incomes and he found it especially fulfilling to engage with young people, to whom he became over the years a surrogate grandfather.

His interest in keeping kids safe and giving them a shot at a better life was genuine, and it showed through his actions. Menino was constantly finding ways to recognize public school students and elevate their expectations. He was obsessive about improving their recreational spaces— Boston’s parks and playgrounds, which made a marked improvement on his watch. And he leaned on the city’s corporate class to step up with summer jobs and new amenities like Camp Harbor View.

Menino’s interest in being the mayor of this city— and nothing else, really— meant that we had his undivided attention. He constantly plumbed our community for young talent and relished the chance to mentor them. He was on the lookout for the next crop of high school and college kids and how he could pick off the best and brightest for his own team. They served him well and with deep devotion— from the fresh-faced neighborhood services coordinators to the most seasoned cabinet chiefs. Even if they sometimes got chewed out by an impatient boss— and most, it seems, did at some point— they came away from their time at City Hall with a deep respect for the man and the office.

The mayor was light-hearted and, sometimes, a little goofy: He liked to bust chops and make silly faces. He loved sharing hot tips on his favorite new restaurant — which, most recently— was the Dockside in South Boston. He had a favored table and occupied it with his family, friends, and staff multiple times a week. There was no “down-time” for Tom Menino. He was constantly “on”— his celebrity rivaled only by the sports hero of the moment.

Tom Menino’s legacy in Dorchester will only be enhanced with time. He laid the groundwork for new growth that, sadly, will only be realized posthumously. Take Columbia Point for example, where a new wave of development is just now beginning. The plans that Tom Menino initiated and insisted upon seven years ago will provide the framework for a whole new neighborhood.

His successor, Mayor Marty Walsh, summed up the man well:
“Even in the latest stages of his illness, his concern – first and foremost – was always for Boston. We are forever grateful for Mayor Menino’s guidance, advice, and continued dedication to Boston. And though he has passed, his legacy and spirit will be felt across the city for generations to come.

“Because of his leadership, Boston is a better place today.”