Bill Walczak is a Dorchester guy, which makes him 10 times smarter than me right off the bat.
He cofounded and ran the Codman Square Health Center for years, but he only lasted 14 months at the Carney Hospital because he had the temerity to suggest to the beancounters there that they needed to actually sink some money into the Carney to make it better.
Now he works for a construction company and he’s on the board at WBUR, the public radio station. And so last month we were standing around, shooting the breeze, at this function for the radio station in a very nice space in Cambridge when he goes, out of the blue, “Tommy’s not running.”
I asked him how he knew. He said he knew because when he had tried to set up a fund-raiser for the mayor, he was told by the mayor’s people not to bother.
I love Tommy Menino but our mayor walks away from fund-raisers about as often as he walks away from an argument when he thinks he’s right.
So Billy Walczak knew. He just knew.
And now we all know.
When the mayor stood there in Faneuil Hall Thursday afternoon he was standing among history, among the ghosts. Samuel Adams spoke there. So did Daniel Webster. So did Oliver Wendell Holmes. I’m guessing Tommy Menino’s farewell address won’t be compared to the speeches of Adams, Webster, and Holmes, but so what?
Sam Adams didn’t get a supermarket built in Grove Hall.
Daniel Webster never walked the length of Bowdoin Street — the one in Dorchester, not the one on Beacon Hill — and banter with the Cape Verdean ladies who hug Tommy like he’s a merengue singer.
And I’m pretty sure Oliver Wendell Holmes never walked into Mike’s Pastry on Hanover Street in the North End and shouted, “Hey, I knew your mother!”
Tommy Menino was our mayor for so long it’s hard to imagine a time when he won’t be. But that’s another nine months away, as the mayah was wont to point out.
There was a certain melancholy, watching him there in Faneuil Hall, because he still looks frail. It is a political truth that you can’t run when you can’t walk so great. He spoke slowly and poignantly. For those who make fun of his malapropisms, get a life. I’d rather have a guy who talks like my Uncle Bozo than some silver-tongued phony.
Still, I didn’t believe everything he said.
“I have no plans to pick the person to fill this seat,” he said. “I just ask that you choose someone who loves this city as much as I have.”
That’s a great line, and maybe if you want to get technical about it, he won’t pick the next mayor. But anyone who believes Tommy Menino won’t have a say, at least behind the scenes, on who gets to be the next mayor is either dead or stupid.
He talked about how he’s met half the people who live in Boston. That’s a great line, too, but it is misleading if you’re trying to figure out Tom Menino’s ability to hang onto a job for 20 years in a tough, unforgiving game. He may have met half the people who live in the city, but he’s met all the people who vote.
I would pay money to listen to him and Arthur Donovan wax poetic on the difference between Dorchester and Hyde Park. But I’d make Tommy pay me money to listen to him explain, in arcane detail, the difference between Readville and Fairmount. Mother o’ gawd.
But he’s a good guy and he was a good mayor and we can’t miss him because he’ll never go away.
About 10 years ago, the mayor walked into a seminar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He searched for familiar faces, and he settled on mine and we laughed at the odds of a couple of knuckleheads like us being in the same room at Hahvahd.
An earnest young graduate student sheepishly interrupted our conversation and asked the mayor to explain his political success.
“I’m a Boston guy,” Tommy Menino told the kid, shrugging. “I’m just a Boston guy.”