Valedictory, it certainly was not.
Mayor Menino’s 20th State of the City Speech was most notable for what wasn’t in it: any hint of his political mortality. His long-awaited speech, delivered before a loyal audience at Faneuil Hall, differed little in tone or message from most of the ones that had preceded it.
Part of this message being, no matter how much has happened, nothing has changed.
Of course, the mayor addressed his recent two-month hospitalization. He thanked his wife and caretakers. He credited the outpouring of support from his subjects — pardon me, constituents — with helping to pull him through. But he didn’t get into the specifics, the bad feet and back, the Type 2 diabetes. Talking about his health might project weakness, at precisely the moment he sought to display strength.
He launched on a humble note. “I am just Tommy Menino from Hyde Park,” he said. “I can’t tell you how humbled I am and how lucky I feel. I don’t need fancy words to say this to all of you: Thank you. You pulled me through.”
For all the weeks of preparation that goes into it, the State of the City speech followed a familiar template: a laundry list of the city’s accomplishments, followed by mostly forgettable promises. It contained some elegant turns of phrase, but nothing the mayor might stumble over. In keeping with longstanding practice, the mayor promised almost nothing measurable, offering little for pesky reporters or feisty advocates to proclaim hopelessly behind schedule six months from now.
Almost no achievement was too small to celebrate. Did you know the Shelburne Community Center was upgraded this year or that East Boston is getting a new library? Well it is. Also, there are cranes in Dudley Square — the School Department is moving there, eventually — and the Innovation District is hot. So is Boston real estate.
“Our progress is real,” Menino declared. “Our future is bright. The state of our city is striking, sound and strong.”
There was more. Menino lauded the work of the advisory committee he appointed last year to tackle the thankless task of overhauling a school assignment process that pleases almost no one. The outcome of the debate on school choice could easily be the most important effort that comes out of city government in 2013.
Menino made some pledges unrelated to schools, as well. He announced the formation of a Women’s Workforce Council that will advocate for women in the city and do something about the gender gap in pay. He announced free online courses to be given through the community centers. The mayor pledged to continue his longstanding efforts, undertaken with Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, in support of gun control.
The speech did not put every question about Menino’s tenure to rest. Not that I expected this in a State of the City speech, but it would have been refreshing to hear him come right out and say that he’s running for reelection, if only in the interest of candor.
Also, it would have been nice to hear how exactly Menino plans to govern for another term, given his ever-more-fragile health. But the mayor apparently is not ready to discuss all that just yet.
Menino has always shied away from discussing his legacy or future, the vision thing. While it was a strong speech, it was a bit unsatisfying to hear a two-decade mayor deliver a major speech so short on sweep. It left the sense that simply enduring, getting through the year, has become the overarching goal of his administration.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” blared the cheesy song that he entered to. Whether that is true for the mayor is a question that will be answered in months to come.