Mayor Thomas M. Menino made his first public appearance in East Boston Monday since an eight-week hospitalization put him of the public eye, amid talk about his health and a potential sixth term in office.
“This is my coming-out party,” Menino joked after walking to the podium, with the aid of a cane, as other elected officials and community members greeted him with a standing ovation.
Menino, Governor Deval Patrick, US Congressman Michael Capuano, and other officials addressed a crowd of about 200 at a ceremonial groundbreaking for Portside at Pier One, a long-delayed residential construction project on the East Boston waterfront.
But amid the official ceremony was speculation of whether Menino would soon declare his intention to run for re-election, perhaps as early as Tuesday’s state of the city address.
“I know that it’s probably not going to be a question you’re going to answer tomorrow night,” State Senator Anthony Petrucelli said to Menino from the podium. “But I, for one, am hopeful that it is, and that you are.”
Menino declared the revitalization of the East Boston waterfront a priority for his administration in his annual speech before the Boston Chamber of Commerce in November 2011, specifically citing stalled development projects such as Portside as opportunities to spur growth.
On Monday, Menino spoke of the neighborhood’s unparalleled views across Boston Harbor to the downtown skyline and said soon people would be able to look across the harbor from downtown and see East Boston fulfilling its potential.
“East Boston has shown lots of patience,” the mayor said. “Now we’re going to show East Boston progress.”
He expressed hope that the resuming of construction on the Portside project — which began in 2006 but soon stalled as the economy began a dramatic downturn — would spur action on four other waterfront projects proposed in the last decade but sidelined by a lack of financing.
“This will send a sign, a message out to those other projects: you better get going, because we’re on your tail,” Menino said.
Patrick, drawing upon themes from his recent State of the Commonwealth speech, spoke of the need to shape the future rather than leaving it to chance.
“There are things we must do in our time to make our community stronger, to make our economy stronger, for today and for tomorrow,” Patrick said. “And I say that not primarily as a governor. I say that as someone who spent most of my life in the private sector. And any business knows … that you get growth by investing. Government’s not so different.”
Construction began in December on a $67 million luxury apartment complex, the first of seven buildings planned for the Portside project, which will be built on 26 acres of land just outside Maverick Square, between land set aside for a planned phase two of Piers Park and the site of the another proposed residential project called Clippership Wharf.
The land is owned by the Massachusetts Port Authority, which has granted a 95-year lease to New Jersey-based developer Roseland, a subsidiary of Mack-Cali Realty Corporation.
Work on the first building is expected to create 200 full-time construction jobs under contractor Cranshaw Construction of Newton Lower Falls.
Events like Monday’s groundbreaking were commonplace for Menino prior to his hospitalization, but rare in recent weeks, as he has worked to regain strength in his legs after weeks off his feet as he recovered from a virus, a blood clot, and a compression fracture in a vertebra. During his hospitalization, Menino was also diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.