Mayor, icon Thomas Menino dies at 71

Mayor%2C+icon+Thomas+Menino+dies+at+71

By Mary Whitfill, editor-in-chief

Thomas M. Menino, Boston’s longest serving mayor and an instrumental leader in the shaping of the current climate of the city, died Thursday morning following a strenuous battle with cancer. He was 71.

“Boston has lost a political giant, and Diane and I have lost a friend. Our hearts and prayers go out to Angela and the whole Menino family,” Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement on Thursday. “And we thank God for the service and the life of Tom Menino.”

A sporadic health record through the years, Menino’s memoir, “Mayor for a New America” (2014), chronicles a scattering of health problems including Crohn’s disease, a blood clot, high blood pressure and his bout with cancer. On Oct. 23, Menino announced that he had stopped chemotherapy and other treatments for his inoperable cancer. He died at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 30.

“Sui Generis – one of a kind. Very very unique,” former Mass. Governor Michael Dukakis said. “He was a kid who grew up in Hyde Park and was messed with for his interesting speaking style – he even made fun of himself at times – but he had a great instinct… He turned out to be a star in this job in so many ways.”

Menino was hailed an as old-school politician. A poll conducted by the Boston Globe in 2013 showed that 49 percent of respondents had personally met Menino in his five consecutive terms as mayor.

“How many mayors can you say that about?” Dukakis asked.

Menino was born in 1942 to Susan and Carl Menino in Readville, a segment of Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where he lived with his parents and grandparents. After graduating from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in 1960, Menino enrolled in night classes at Boston College. However, he did not complete a degree, justifying his lack of interest by stating, “Truman didn’t go to college,” Menino’s father recalled in 1983 documentary series “Neighborhoods.”

Elected to Boston City Council for District 5 in 1983, Menino reversed his approach to higher education and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston in community planning five years later.

In his time on the City Council, Menino was named chairman of the council’s Planning and Development Committee, was a founding member of the Tourists and Tourism Committee and was elected City Council president in 1993. The same year, sitting mayor Raymond Flynn was appointed by President Bill Clinton to be the US Ambassador to the Holy See, and Menino was named acting mayor.

“We grew up in the same community, and I’ve known Mayor Menino since I was a teenager. I not only succeeded him in the city council, but I also worked on his first campaign,” Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said. “…we were elected on the same day, him for mayor and myself to succeed him for City Council. He was highly regarded as a hard worker and someone who could get things done, and I needed to follow in his footsteps. I could pick up the phone and call him when I needed help – he was a good mentor over the years and gave me some good guidance.”

Menino ran against seven competitors in the 1993 mayoral election four months after being appointed acting mayor and pulled out a landslide victory, garnering 64.4 percent of votes in the general election. This triumph opened the doors to what would be a 20-year run as mayor, an unprecedented incumbency.

“For the city he loved so much, this is a death in the family,” Conley added in a statement on Oct. 30.

For the next two decades, Menino guided Boston through unparalleled economic, commercial and industrial change. With a reputation for micromanaging, he enhanced the city’s development and avoided a majority of budget cuts following the 2008 financial crisis.

“He will be remembered as the longest termed mayor and he’ll be known, the label he will be best remembered by, is the ‘urban mechanic,’” John Portz, Northeastern professor of political science who studies public policy and administration, said. “He was someone who paid close attention to the needs of the city and the neighborhoods, and someone who connected with people on a one-to-one level.”

At the beginning of his tenure, Menino also focused on schools in the Boston area, appointing two longstanding Boston Public School superintendents and instituting a number of policies in attempts to fix a damaged system.

“He was very attentive to the physical development of the city, and prior to that he focused on education,” Portz said. “He was really the first mayor who carried out an appointed school committee, and I think it meant a lot to him to do the best he could to work to improve the schools.”

Menino partnered with Northeastern for a number of events, including speaking in the university’s Open Classroom series and expressing support for NU’s Foundation Year program in 2012, telling students he was “so proud” of what they had achieved. Northeastern’s president, who lived next door to Menino for a time, also had a personal friendship with the Boston icon.

“Today, Boston lost a great leader, higher education lost a great champion and I lost a mentor,” President Joseph E. Aoun said in a statement on Oct. 30. “Mayor Menino not only welcomed my family and me to Boston, he taught me firsthand about the power of partnerships and the value of being close to the people you represent.”

Despite the array of health issues that plagued Menino, his commitment to the city could be seen throughout his long battle. When delivering a speech at the interfaith service honoring Boston Marathon Bombing victims last year, not even a broken leg could keep him from standing and addressing the nation.

The mayor retired earlier this year, saying he no longer had the stamina to hold the office “the Menino way.”

Menino is survived by his wife Angela Faletra, daughter Susan Menino Fenton, son Thomas Menino Jr. and six grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced. The Menino family is asking that donations be made to the Thomas M. Menino Fund for Boston “in lieu of flowers.” Boston City Hall will be open until 11 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 30, and mementos may be left inside the main entrance.

“He played a formative role in this city’s revival and renaissance. He didn’t want to be president, he didn’t want to be head of the World Bank – he just wanted to be the mayor of Boston. And he was,” Dukakis said. “He wanted to make the city as good as he possibly could, and he did.”

Update: Mayor Menino will lie in state at Faneuil Hall on Sunday, Nov. 2 at 10 a.m. This event will be public. The following Monday, Nov. 3, a private funeral Mass will be held at Most Precious Blood Church in Hyde Park at noon. 

Photo courtesy Eric Haynes, Governor’s Office.