For Mayor Menino, All Politics Was Personal

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino announces that he won't seek re-election for an unprecedented sixth term at Faneuil Hall in Boston Thursday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino announces that he won’t seek re-election for an unprecedented sixth term at Faneuil Hall in Boston Thursday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

BOSTON — Boston’s longest-serving mayor, Thomas Menino, on Thursday announced he will not seek re-election for an unprecedented sixth term.

“I’m here with the people I love to tell the city I love that I will leave the job that I love,” Menino said during an address from Faneuil Hall.

On Thursday morning, Menino stood in front of his home in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston and told reporters that after serving as the city’s mayor for the past 20 years, he agonized over whether to run for another term.

“It’s a sad day but a day that always will come in your career,” he said.

It was the most difficult decision of his life, Menino said — not an overstatement for a man who spent his entire life in Boston politics.

‘His First Love Was Politics’

“He was a community activist. His first love was politics,” said Joseph Timilty, Menino’s political mentor. “Some people was baseball, some it was hockey. His, it was community service. He loved it.”

Menino worked on Timilty’s campaigns for state Senate and three unsuccessful runs for the mayor’s office. Menino started out as a campaign volunteer, driver, fund-raiser and ward organizer.

For Menino, a lifelong Bostonian and longtime member of the city council, all politics was personal.

“Every place he went he made friends,” Timilty said. “He worked at it, no one gave him anything. He worked at it, he worked being a councilor, worked at being a chairman, he worked at being a candidate. And he knew you had to have strong relationships.”

One of Menino’s strongest relationships was with former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn. In 1993, when Flynn left office to become ambassador to the Vatican, Menino, as head of the city council, became acting mayor, the first non-Irish mayor of Boston in over 60 years.

Gov. Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley and U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano watch as Menino gives his farewell address Thursday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Gov. Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley and U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano watch as Menino gives his address. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“And there was a built-in organization of Ray Flynn people who stayed with him in that fight and that put him over the top,” Timilty said, “and no one came near him.”

Menino crushed all of his political opponents in his five mayoral elections; at times his popularity in the polls ran over 70 percent.

The ‘Urban Mechanic’

Former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnacle followed Menino’s career. He remembered:

I was actually with him one day — I believe it was in Roslindale. I stopped the car, he gets out of the car to look at the little league field where the grass had overgrown in the infield. He goes to a payphone — no cellphones then, that’s how long he’s been mayor. He called the Parks Department and gets that field mowed. That’s who he is.

Barnacle dubbed Menino the “Urban Mechanic.” The nickname stuck.

“He’s interested in stop signs and hydrants that work and painted crosswalks,” Barnacle said. “His interest is in making the city that he’s lived in his entire life as open and livable, and as comfortable and clean for everyone. That’s why he’s a success.”

For the past year, Menino suffered from a series of illnesses. In the fall he was hospitalized for two months, then months more recuperating, before returning to his beloved Hyde Park home only last week.

‘A Guy Fighting For Them’

Longtime Dorchester activist Lew Finfer said he’ll miss Menino. Recently Finfer was at Faneuil Hall when the mayor held a rally to champion one of his signature issues: jobs for city youth.

“He went from the back of Faneuil Hall to the front to speak and he was obviously laboring with a cane but it was with great dignity and great appreciation,” Finfer said. “And that was a room with 800 youth, mostly under 18, mostly youth of color, and they knew him as their mayor, as a guy fighting for them. And it was a very poignant scene.”

Menino has nine months left in office. He doesn’t plan on leaving quietly as a lame duck. “We still have work to do,” he said Thursday. “We’re not finished yet.”

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