The highlight of Mayor Menino’s State of the City speech wasn’t its admirable theme of enhancing human potential. It wasn’t in the genuinely impressive progress in city development, with 2,000 units of housing now under construction. And it wasn’t in Menino’s trademark medium-sized initiatives, like his networking plan for women-owned businesses.
Rather, the highlight was Menino himself. In his proud, steady walk to the podium, with only the help of a cane, Menino sent a strong signal that he is back of the job after nearly six weeks in the hospital for a range of ailments, followed by another month of rehab. The mutual affection between Menino and the city was visible in his interaction with the crowd, which whooped and applauded at even corny lines like a joke about Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women.” For his part, Menino offered his sincere thanks to all who helped him and stood by him during his rehabilitation. And he showed his graciousness in other ways, too, such as with a comradely tribute to retiring State Senator Jack Hart.
By now, after 20 years of the Menino administration, people know not to expect sweeping promises or compelling visions from this type of speech. When Menino says things like “And here’s the best part: There is a crane over Dudley Square,” his excitement is infectious because the audience understands that Menino has worked for years to redevelop Dudley Square, that it’s an important step for an often-neglected corner of the city, and that the sum-total of such initiatives has been a visibly improved quality of life for all Bostonians.
“We will continue to focus on quality of life issues,” Menino declared late in his speech. “They can seem small, but I know they make a big difference to your sense of safety and security.” This is, of course, Menino’s creed. And Boston’s residents understand by now that it represents a special hands-on commitment on his part. Last night at Faneuil Hall, city and neighborhood leaders took advantage of an opportunity to show their appreciation for a man they had missed, perhaps more than they might have expected, during his long recuperation. And he gave them a vintage performance in return.