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Menino: I Continue To Reinvent Myself 06:57
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The most competitive mayoral election that Boston has seen in two decades is decided Tuesday, Nov. 3. In the remaining days, incumbent Thomas Menino and his challenger, City Councilor Michael Flaherty, are reaching out to any voters in the city who are undecided. In the second of two final interviews with the candidates, Menino sat down with us this week in WBUR’s Studio 2.


Bob Oakes: Voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether they're going to send Tom Menino back to City Hall for a fifth term. You've said in recent days that maybe five isn't enough, that maybe you'll run for a sixth term or --

Thomas Menino: Seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth.

Do you want to be mayor for life?

I want to be mayor as long as I can make a difference in the city of Boston. I'm not going to say what I'm going to do next time. I haven't got elected yet. When I get in my fifth term, the people of Boston might say: "Menino, you're out of here, get out of here."

I want to make sure I listen to the people, I work for the people, and they all make the decision for me.

Thomas Menino spoke to WBUR's Bob Oakes in the studio. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Thomas Menino spoke to WBUR's Bob Oakes in the studio. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

It's been one of the most hotly-contested mayoral races in Boston in a long time and although the recent University of New Hampshire poll showed you well ahead of your opponent, Councilor Flaherty, he still gets a healthy portion of the vote in that poll. Does that send a signal to you that you need to do a better job?

It doesn't send a signal to me. I always try to do a better job as mayor. And don't forget: during the preliminary election, there was over a million dollars spent trying to bring my candidacy down. That will have an effect on you.

But I think the people of Boston feel good about the city and where the city is going.

In calling for change, Councilor Flaherty says that you've been in office too long — you've heard that repeatedly during this campaign. he also calls you "powerful," "vindictive," and "the thin-skinned leader of Boston." Respond to that.

Well, I've been here several terms, but, you know, I continue to reinvent myself. I continue to bring new people on to my administration. We're continuing to be a newer city, attractive city, our population in the last 10 years went up 30,000 people.

Calling them a "complete travesty," Councilor Flaherty identifies — in his view — the performance of Boston schools as your biggest failure. He points to the figures you've heard a lot during this campaign: 23,000 dropouts over the course of 16 years, 100 out of 143 schools labeled under-performing.

I know you dispute some of those numbers, but if you had to pick an area of the Boston schools that you would say you haven't done well at, where is improvement needed that you just haven't been able to get to yet?

Flaherty: Mayor Menino Has Lowered Boston's Expectations

Well, first of all, we take in every school — we don't discriminate against anybody when it comes to the Boston public schools. There are schools that discriminate against kids: Don't take special-needs kids, don't take language-barrier kids.

One of the things I want to say about education: It's probably the most difficult thing you can do in an urban area. Because it's not just about the schools, where those kids come from, where they go home to, and the support systems they have in place.

And also, you know, think about the language barriers that we have in our city. You might have 48 different languages spoken in a classroom.

Our MCAS scores are up also this year in Boston. We sent about 75 percent of kids on to college.

But you didn't really answer my question, which was: What one area of the schools do you think you haven't done well on that you would like to improve?

Oh, I think one of the areas is selling the public on the Boston Public Schools. I mean there's an image out there that the schools don't work. One of the things I think we do a poor job of is selling the educational process — the good work that's done by teachers, principals and every day in the classroom.

In your 1994 inaugural address, you pledged that city of Boston kids who graduate with a "B" or better average and get accepted at college would be able to attend no matter what their financial situation.

But the fact is, today there is no city program to help poor kids get to college financially, and the estimates are that 10 percent of city kids never go to college because they can't afford it and 10 percent more drop out of college because they can't afford to keep paying for it once they do get in.

What happened to the pledge and what are you going to do about it? Was that overreaching?

It might have been overreaching, but you know you always have to have goals. You can't just sit there and say: Oh, we'll get it done, don't worry about it. I like to overextend myself, and that's how I get myself in trouble on these issues.

I try to push the envelope. But you know, we got — Boston University right now is giving more scholarships today than it did three years ago. Northeastern is, BC is.

Your critics — including Councilor Flaherty, but not only Councilor Flaherty — say that you've dropped the ball when it comes to pushing the development of Boston forward. I know that you say, in some ways, like many other cities, Boston has been victimized by the down economy because developers are hard pressed to find cash to push ahead with projects.

But I want to ask about one specific project: the stalled Downtown Crossing development, the Filene's Basement location. Vornado, the developer there, has complained it's had a hard time finding money for financing, yet in the Wall Street Journal there was a story in which the company said it's amassing a huge fund to buy and push ahead with acquisitions and other developments.

Has the ball been dropped in not pushing Vornado hard enough in regard to Downtown Crossing?

Let me just say, I don't think the ball's been dropped on any of our projects in the city of Boston. But that's only one project in the city of Boston. You know we have 30 million square feet of development --

But wait a minute, let's stay with Downtown Crossing for a minute, because in many ways it is the symbol of Boston.

No it isn't.

Well, it is for people who like to shop downtown.

Well, let's talk about --

And it is a hole in the ground right now. When is it going to go forward?

Well, as soon as the finances come through. And everyone who understands economic development and understands the financial markets knows the money isn't there right now.

Don't forget, we've got the Paramount Theater coming on line at the end of this year, next year we've got the Modern Theatre going on line. We just opened up 243 condos on Province Street. Am I concerned? I sure am. We're trying to get Vornado to move forward.

If you had to pick a word, one word, to describe yourself, how would you describe Tom Menino?

Friendly.

Is that the way you want to be known?

I'd like to be known as a man who cares. Who cares about people, who cares about their lives and how we improve their lives, how we give them opportunity. A mayor of hope.

What do you want your legacy to be?

My legacy in Boston? To make this city that the city works for everyone. Not for some of our people. Continue to make progress in all the different areas of our city: better schools, a safer city, a greener city.

That's what I'm trying to do. Making a better life for them.

Tom Menino, thank you very much for coming in, appreciate it.

Thanks Bob. It was great to be with you once again. Always enjoy it.

This program aired on October 30, 2009.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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