BOSTON — Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history, delivered his unprecedented 19th annual address to the city Tuesday night at Faneuil Hall.
The mayor promises big things for Boston in 2012, the biggest in education. It’s a pledge he’s made before — first back in 1999, and again as recently as 2008. This time, Menino made the promise in a hall packed with city officials and politicians, such as Gov. Deval Patrick. With a portrait of George Washington looking over his shoulder, Menino put a date on it.
“One year from now Boston will have adopted a radically different student assignment plan, one that puts a priority on children attending schools closer to their homes,” Menino said.
The reaction of Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo sums up the general reaction: “It’s ambitious,” Arroyo said.
Menino said he’s charged Boston School Superintendent Carol Johnson with the task of appointing a citywide group to help design the plan.
“We’ve already begun to talk in small conversations to some of our community stakeholders,” Johnson said. “We want to put together an external advisory committee so that we can make sure we get the broad array of input.”
The mayor is also pledging to overhaul Madison Park Technical Vocational High School into a “center for career-readiness and workforce development.”
“First, we’ll work to designate an innovation school. We can then change the schedule and the curriculum so they allow for real work-based experiences. Second, we will create the Madison Park business partnership. I challenge Boston businesses and institutions to provide advice, jobs and their own financial resources to help transform this school,” Menino said.
Madison Park’s career training currently ranges from from cosmetology and automotive repair to Web development and film production. The mayor’s overhaul would mean an expansion of the school’s current system, which provides real-world job experiences for just a few of the roughly 1,200 students.
Students such as 17-year-old Oliver Baez.
“It’s all about you. What do you want to do?” Baez asked.
What Baez wants to do is go to college. He’s studying business marketing and office technology and interning at a law firm in downtown Boston.
“It’s a step in the door, you learn a lot of things about the legal field and just experience a lot of new things,” he said.
As well as education initiatives, Menino highlighted successes of his administration so far and pledged to do more.
Noting a drop in crime, Menino outlined several public safety proposals, including hiring 24 new police recruits and creating 100 new neighborhood crime watch groups.
With a focus on job creation, he also pledged to set up a panel to study plans for a casino in East Boston.
“Even before the state Gaming Commission is put together, I will create a Boston Gaming Advisory Board with leaders from outside city government,” Menino said. “It will have a two-part mandate: maximize job creation for Bostonians and provide transparency for residents into the process of casino review.”
Menino also tackled another weighty issue.
“I’m determined to make Boston a leader in obesity prevention,” he said.
Noting that 50 percent of adults in the city are overweight and one-third of school-aged children are too, Menino committed money to fight childhood obesity. He set a citywide goal for everyone in Boston to lose a millions pounds in 2012. As for how much of those pounds he will contribute: “I don’t know, but I’m going to make a commitment to lose at least two pounds a month for the next year,” he said.
A year that could see a trimmed-down mayor ramp up for another term in office — No. 6.
“I got a new slogan: Don’t retire — inspire,” he said.
After his speech, Menino told me he loves “making history.”
— You can read Menino’s prepared remarks, below: