BOSTON Thomas Menino’s announcement that he would not seek a sixth term is triggering speculation over who might enter what promises to be a spirited race to succeed Boston’s longest-serving mayor.
The city, known for its bare-knuckled politics, where the legendary Mayor James Michael Curley once ruled and the Kennedy dynasty was born, has had only three mayors in the last 45 years. The election to succeed Menino will be the first in three decades without an incumbent on the ballot.
Menino was the city’s first Italian-American mayor, ending almost a century of near domination by Irish-American politicians that began with John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the grandfather of President John F. Kennedy and Sens. Robert and Edward Kennedy.
But the city’s younger and more diverse population could throw this year’s race wide open, political observers said.
“I just think if you’re going to be the mayor of Boston you have to be mayor of the neighborhoods, understand the neighborhoods, understand what’s going on out there.”
“The next mayor could be black, could be Spanish, could be gay,” said Lawrence DiCara, an attorney and former city councilor. “Anybody could be elected mayor of Boston.”
Prior to Menino’s announcement that he would not seek re-election, only City Councilor John Connolly had formally declared his candidacy. State Rep. Martin Walsh, city councilors Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley were just a few of the names of possible contenders.
Menino promised not to take sides in the race to succeed him, but was ready with some advice.
“I just think if you’re going to be the mayor of Boston you have to be mayor of the neighborhoods, understand the neighborhoods, understand what’s going on out there,” Menino told reporters after his announcement.
“That’s where I get all my energy, all my ideas, from the people of Boston, not from consultants,” he said.
But no one made any declarations on Thursday, with prospective candidates saying it was a day for Menino to be in the spotlight.
“I am here with the people I love, to tell the city I love, that I will leave the job that I love,” Menino said, with his wife Angela and family by his side at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall. “I can run, I can win, and I can lead, but not in the neighborhoods all the time as I like.”
The 70-year-old Menino, who used a cane to walk to the podium, has had persistent health problems including a six-week hospital stay last year to treat a respiratory infection and a compression fracture in his spine. Menino also was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
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The mayor received prolonged standing ovations before and after the speech from an audience that included political dignitaries, staff and city workers, and ordinary residents who came to show their appreciation.
At times emotional, Menino also was quick to add a reminder that his term isn’t over yet.
“I have nine months left. Just think what I can do in nine months,” he said. “We can have some real fun.”
Among the many statements of praise for Menino were plaudits from President Barack Obama, who recognized the mayor for his “extraordinary leadership, vision, and compassion.” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg credited Menino for working to end “the scourge of gun violence.” The two mayors co-chair Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Menino’s long stewardship began at a critical moment in Boston’s history, when traditional urban ethnic enclaves began to give way to waves of new immigrants and younger professionals.
He became acting mayor when his predecessor, Raymond Flynn, left office in 1993 after being named ambassador to the Vatican. Menino, then president of the City Council, was automatically elevated to the mayor’s job. He won the subsequent election in November 1993 and would be easily re-elected four times.
James Brett, a former state lawmaker who was Menino’s first mayoral opponent in 1993, said he immediately recognized Menino’s tenacity as a campaigner.
“Anyone who would underestimate him would be foolish to say the least,” said Brett, who now runs the business-backed New England Council. “He was grounded and focused as a candidate.”
Peter Meade, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said Menino has an “unbelievable” work ethic, often making two or three more stops around the city after most of his staff had gone home. While a demanding boss, Menino “never asked anyone to do anything he wasn’t willing or anxious to do himself,” Meade said.
Despite his political savvy, Menino also was known for his sometimes tortured phrases and malapropisms, especially when it came to Boston sports figures.
He once confused former New England Patriots placekicker and Super Bowl hero Adam Vinatieri with former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek and referred to Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo as “Hondo,” which was the nickname of former Celtics great John Havlicek.
Residents said Thursday they appreciated Menino’s neighborhood approach.
Joyce Stanley, 64, a lifelong resident of Roxbury, credited Menino for helping create jobs and new economic opportunities in the neighborhood. She said she hoped the next mayor would take the same approach.
“I still want to see someone work with the neighborhoods, and not just the downtown,” said Stanley, who runs the community organization Dudley Square Main Streets. She said she wasn’t surprised by Menino’s announcement because of his declining health.
Jerry Quinn, 60, who was greeted warmly by Menino outside of Faneuil Hall, said he had known the mayor for more than 20 years.
“He’s a neighborhood person. He’s done so much for Allston-Brighton,” said Quinn of the Boston area where he’s lived since leaving Ireland 38 years ago.
Quinn said he was sad to hear of Menino’s plans to leave office.