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Adrian Walker

The machine and the man

Martha Pierce was an aide to the new acting mayor in 1993 when her young daughter answered the phone at her home. Pierce asked her kid who was calling.

“It’s a guy who says he’s the mayor,” her daughter replied. “But it’s just Tommy.”

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Pierce had worked in Menino’s City Council office, but her friend and boss was on his way to something far larger. Tommy Menino’s old friends held a reunion Thursday night at the Boston Harbor Hotel, and it was a fascinating slice of Boston political history.

Officially, the event was a $100-a-head fund-raiser. The mayor holds at least one of those a week. But this was different.

“Somebody had the idea of getting together a few people who had worked in the administration,” said Carole Brennan, Menino’s former press secretary. “But it turned out that a lot of people wanted to come. It just snowballed.”

So there were perhaps 300 people in a beautiful room overlooking the harbor. Certainly many were there to curry favor. But, also, a lot of people who have departed the Menino administration don’t see much of each other anymore; they are out doing whatever it is they now do. So the idea of a get-together was appealing.

Juanita Wade and Sandi Henriquez came up from Washington, where they now work in the Obama administration. Paul Evans, Menino’s favorite police commissioner, was there. Tom O’Brien, who was once pushed out as head of the Boston ­Redevelopment Authority, was working the room. John Auerbach, the former head of public health who recently resigned from a similar state post because of the state drug lab scandal, was there.

“We battled at times,” said Wade, the former chief of human services. “But I thought his heart was always in the right place. This is home for me, no matter where I’m working.”

The closed-door event offered a rare ­unguarded look at both the “Menino ­Machine” and the man himself, whose emotion surprised even those close to him.

“Mayors don’t do this by themselves,” he told his alumni. “I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished, and I’m proud what many of you are doing now.

“You didn’t come into this for power, ­because you know the power is on the fifth floor,” he said to laughter. “You didn’t come into this for fame, because we won’t let you talk to the press. You came to government, you showed up every day, to make people’s lives better.”

He began to recognize some of the city officials who have died during his tenure in office, but he only got through two names — Ed Collins, the former fiscal chief, and ­Justine Liff, the great parks commissioner — before he choked up and shifted to less emotional territory.

Hovering over the event was a sense of political mortality. The unasked question was, will this term be it? The short answer, the only answer, is that nobody knows, maybe not even Menino himself.

Of course, Menino is not an easy boss; not everyone has left City Hall happy. “Some of us left on good terms,” Evans quipped. “Some of us knew when to go.” But others have found themselves called on by Menino years after leaving, like Alyce Lee, his first chief of staff, whom he just drafted to help out on the Elizabeth Warren Senate campaign. People leave their jobs, but they are always on call if Menino needs them.

When I asked Brennan about the enduring loyalty many feel, she mentioned ­Auerbach. The day he resigned in the midst of a scandal, Menino said of him: “Everything I know about public health, John ­Auerbach taught me.” That act of loyalty did not go unnoticed.

The reunion was a snapshot of a journey: from acting mayor to municipal patriarch.

Characteristically, Menino had another event after that one, but he was late; he was having too much fun hanging out with the old gang. He had left them with these words: “My work here isn’t done.”

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.
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