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Tossing Crutches Aside, Menino Talks Jobs, Health Care Costs04:27
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BOSTON — It was the wrong city, but the right image. As battered as a heavyweight in the 15th round, the mayor came to Faneuil Hall Tuesday night with one knee newly operated on, another newly injured, and an elbow recovering from surgery.

In the hall, voices wondered whether the injured 68-year-old, into his fifth term, may be hanging up his gloves. In a grand gesture to any would-be challengers, the mayor tossed his crutches aside.

If it wasn't quite the stuff of Franklin Roosevelt, it was game nonetheless. He turned to his Eleanor, Angela Menino.

"If things don't work out she might become a nurse, I don't know," Menino said.

In his State of the City address, he was declaring a state of emergency — if only for the snow. Against what looks like the bleak mid-winter of fiscal crisis, he declared, "Even with the challenges behind us, the big ones that remain to tackle, I'm relentlessly optimistic about 2011."

In the hall, voices wondered whether the injured 68-year-old, into his fifth term, may be hanging up his gloves. In a grand gesture to any would-be challengers, the mayor tossed his crutches aside.

Menino was standing, and exceeding expectations, and even his speech was almost free of the normal slush and sliding of syntax and phonetics. He's the only mayor most people have ever known and they trust him, said former City Councilor Mike McCormick.

"They know they're not going to have a New York moment where the mayor is apologizing for a snow storm I wasn't paying attention to," McCormick said.

Menino talked about creating jobs through energy efficiency programs and increasing the scope and use of community health centers, and turning around under-performing schools. He then came to what might be an inevitable fight with the unions.

"Let me address one final disparity — the difference between what we pay for city employee health care costs and what we can afford," Menino said.

He said Boston taxpayers pay 82 percent of health care costs for most city employees, while the state pays 67 percent for new employees, a rate at which Boston, he said, could save $1 million per month.

"This economy is tough enough for our neighbors to cover their own health care costs. We should not ask them to cover the vast majority of ours," he said.

Applause for the idea did not resound from members of the City Council.

"I understand the problem. I'm trying to figure out the best way to solve it," said Steve Murphy, the new City Council president. "We don't always agree on every issue, but he's acknowledged it's the issue of our day right now and we all concur with that."

John Zuccaro doesn't concur at all. He's president of one of the city employees' unions.

"When you're talking about cost shifting when we've already done our part to date, and we're willing to do more, this necessitates a meeting," Zuccaro said. "Sit down with us."

Councilor Felix Arroyo also had reservations.

"My side is to say we should put everybody in the room. As to whether or not something has to give on health care costs, I agree something has to give," Arroyo said.

After his speech, saying he wants to be mayor for another 10 years, Menino was vowing to fight.

"I think there is going to be some confrontation with some of the councilors, because they're not going to understand that this is good for the taxpayers of Boston," he said.

Calling this one of Menino's great speeches, McCormick applauded the mayor's stance.

"But health care, delivering health care for city employees, is going to bankrupt a lot of cities if they don't deal with them. And it sounds like the mayor is ready to deal with it starting now," McCormick said.

The crowd stood and applauded often. Menino said he was energized, felt great, even as the oft-called urban mechanic talked about having 500 pieces of equipment out on the streets first thing to get to work on the snow.

He was back in charge — and watch out.

"God bless our great city and all our residents. Thank you and good evening, and get your cars off the street. There's a curfew at 9 o'clock," he said.

This program aired on January 12, 2011.

David Boeri Twitter Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.

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