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Remembering Mayor Tom Menino: He Transformed Boston, Cared Nothing For Fame

Jack Beatty: "In a time of toxic cynicism about politics and government, his example helps restore faith in both." Pictured: Mayor Thomas M. Menino, in an undated photo. (AP)closemore
Jack Beatty: "In a time of toxic cynicism about politics and government, his example helps restore faith in both." Pictured: Mayor Thomas M. Menino, in an undated photo. (AP)

I am deeply saddened at the passing of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who honored me by asking me to help write his memoir. My heart goes out to his family.

Tom Menino cared nothing for fame, yet I can't help thinking of how proud his parents would be at how high he rose and all he achieved without a shadow of dishonor falling on his name. In a time of toxic cynicism about politics and government, his example helps restore faith in both.

In a city still reeling from busing and the racial hatred it ignited, he said the one thing he would not tolerate is, 'people being discriminated against,' and saw to it that his government was as good as his word.

He practiced the politics of healing when politicians from Bill Weld to the Bill Clinton of "welfare reform" were exploiting the politics of resentment. In a city still reeling from busing and the racial hatred it ignited, he said the one thing he would not tolerate is "people being discriminated against," and saw to it that his government was as good as his word.

Assuming responsibility for a failing school system, he first raised the expectations of students, parents and teachers that change was possible, then — "incrementally," with time and money and unflagging attention to the metrics of progress — he made it happen.

He made it happen for the 200,000 kids he placed in summer jobs, kids like the girl who turned her internship at Dana-Farber into a career in medicine. "These summer jobs are amazing," she told the Globe's Shirley Leung. "It…shows that someone cares."

That someone was Mayor Thomas M. Menino. Government Menino-style was not only a force for change but for good. Healing, helping, bringing people together, Mayor Menino rejected the anti-development downtown vs. "the neighborhoods" rhetoric of Ray Flynn. Instead, he brought development to the neighborhoods while presiding over a transformation of the Boston skyline and adding the equivalent of a "new Prudential Tower every other year..." in office and residential space downtown.

Transformation, indeed, is the best descriptor for his 20-year tenure. The skyline, the condos, the office buildings, the trendy restaurants are only the visible signs of a deeper change. There's a spirit of hope and youth and fun in old Boston. People are proud to say they live here. Students and tourists treasure their memories of the city. The outpouring of concern elicited by the Marathon bombing showed how much Boston means to people all over the world. So far as any one person could, Mayor Menino did that. His leadership did.

What The New York Times called “one of the most successful urban renaissance stories in modern American history” happened on his watch. The bracing new tone of the city is instinct with his message of inclusion, his vision of Boston as a city welcoming to people of all races and all persuasions where "we take care of one and other." Nowhere else in America in these mean years has the sentiment of solidarity so infused daily life as in Boston.

...his place in history is assured. His hold on the affections of Boston’s people ('Mayor Menino Is More Popular Than Kittens,' read one 2013 headline) is the stuff of legend.

For all this and so much more, his place in history is assured. His hold on the affections of Boston’s people (“Mayor Menino Is More Popular Than Kittens,” read one 2013 headline) is the stuff of legend. A 2009 poll found that more than half the city’s population — nearly 300,000 people — had personally met the mayor. A burly, well-dressed guy who greeted you with “Heyhowaya!” and made you feel at home. The most moving story he told me was about that.

“Usually," he said, “I marched in the Gay Pride parade. But in 2013, I was sidelined by a broken leg… Recuperating at the Parkman House, I watched the parade from a wheelchair inside the vestibule. A young woman, spotting me, left the marchers, ran across Beacon Street, and bounded up the stone steps. She wanted to thank me, she said. Years before, rejected by her parents, she’d left her hometown and come to Boston, a stranger. But, she said, beginning to cry, I’d helped her feel that Boston was her home. She wiped her tears, squeezed my hand, and rejoined the parade."

He added, “As I battle cancer, her words bring me contentment.”

They should have. Rest in Peace to a good man.


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Jack Beatty Cognoscenti contributor
Jack Beatty is On Point's news analyst.

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