Most of the rerporters who packed the elegant living room of the Parkman House Tuesday afternoon were not all that interested in the city’s announcement that Converse is moving its world headquarters to a dilapidated building on Lovejoy Wharf next to TD Garden.
They were there instead for a glimpse of the king.
In the latest step of his rehabilitation tour, Mayor Thomas M.Menino stood for eight minutes, sat for roughly 10 minutes, and then stood again as he took questions on a variety of subjects. He was by turns witty, reflective, enthusiastic, and plainly winded. He offered no serious thoughts about his future.
Menino said he was ahead of schedule on his physical therapy, which he undergoes once or twice a day at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. He said he adds to his exercise program by walking the lengthy corridors of the Parkman House. He had no visible bumps or bruises and stood without assistance.
That said, he continued to deflect questions about whether he is planning to run for a sixth term this year. “I have no time frame,” he said of making a decision. “I want to get through one thing at a time.”
In response to questions, Menino called for a fix for the financial woes of the MBTA and said he wants to rein in aggressive panhandling. He said he isn’t thinking about who should be named interim US senator if John Kerry is confirmed as secretary of state; saying that the special election is what really matters. When I asked how long he would be staying at the Parkman House, he asked if I wanted to move in. In other words, he sounded like himself.
He is clearly chafing at living at the Parkman House, the opulent Beacon Hill mansion that has served as a hideaway/meeting place for mayors for decades. Clearly it is more convenient for him than convalescing at home. For one thing, his staff is a few blocks away, as opposed to making daily treks to faraway Readville. But, as he added: “This is a house, not a home. My whole house could fit in this room, but this isn’t home.”
He said he hopes to move home in 10 days, but the emphasis seemed to be on hope. There was a striking lack of conviction.
Clearly, these are odd times, for the mayor, his staff, and for Boston. At 70, Menino is in a position that may be without precedent. Generally, politicians think about their future when their popularity is sagging. Failing that, the issue may be raised by the specter of a potent opponent on the rise. Or simply by boredom.
Menino’s situation doesn’t fit any of those categories. Clearly, he remains popular enough to win reelection. Without a doubt, no one is in any hurry to run against him. Certainly, he still loves the job. Yet the question, the one that may not have an answer for months, is whether he can recover to the point of serving four more years.
His strategy, in the meantime, is simply to continue doing what he does, as publicly as possible. Thus, the announcement that Converse will move into the city two years from now. The clear message was: the business of the city continues. That’s nice — it should — but it is unlikely to put the questions about Menino’s future to rest.
Right now, his biggest lingering health issue probably isn’t his bad back or feet, but his recent diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. He has adjusted his diet and begun taking insulin. But addressing this illness isn’t as simple as taking a pill or a shot. Speaking from personal experience, adjusting to life as insulin-dependent diabetic is a project that takes a lot longer than a month or two.
Menino’s staff has scheduled the annual State of the City Speech for Jan. 29, another attempt to preserve a veneer of normality. But for the first time in nearly two decades, Menino’s future seems at least mildly unpredictable. That uncertainty reverberates across his city.