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How Mayor Menino decided it was time to go

Mayor Thomas M. Menino waved goodbye at Boston’s Faneuil Hall after announcing he would not run for mayor again.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Mayor Thomas M. Menino waved goodbye at Boston’s Faneuil Hall after announcing he would not run for mayor again.

It was nighttime. Thomas M. Menino was sitting alone at the kitchen table at the Parkman House, the city-owned mansion on Beacon Hill where he had been recuperating from a battery of health problems for more than two months. The longest-serving mayor in Boston history decided there, two weeks ago, that he would not seek a record sixth term.

“You get a feeling about it, a sense about it,” he said Friday. “I didn’t tell anybody. I just sat with myself with it for a couple of days.”

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The decision — as momentous as it was private — upended Boston’s political landscape when it was made public Wednesday and culminated a long period of soul-searching with doctors, advisers, and family.

Two weeks before that night in the kitchen, the mayor had summoned his advisers to the Parkman House to pore over an internal poll showing that if he wanted to, he could run again, and win. Despite an eight-week stay in the hospital last fall, he had an 81 percent approval rating.

As the mayor looked over the figures, however, it was clear he wasn’t fixated, as he normally would be, on the nuts and bolts of a reelection campaign, but on the larger dilemma of whether to run at all. It was a telling, and, for some, an unsettling shift.

“It was apparent to everyone that his mind was not dead-set one way or the other,” said Paul Maslin, Menino’s pollster, who came from his office in Wisconsin for the meeting. “He was very seriously contemplating that this could be his last year.”

Mayor Thomas M. Menino recuperated at the Parkman House on Beacon Street, in a chair he brought from home.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Mayor Thomas M. Menino recuperated at the Parkman House on Beacon Street, in a chair he brought from home.

The meeting touched off what one adviser called “30 days of Tom Menino’s not-so-scientific analysis.”

Aides told him he could raise the money he needed for another campaign. They told him they could deploy his field organization and gather the votes, just as they always had. Menino’s wife, Angela, said she was on board if he wanted another term.

Some friends urged him to run again. Others argued that he had accomplished what he set out to do two decades ago and should end his career at the height of his popularity.

But weighing on the 70-year-old mayor was his own candid appraisal of his physical limitations.

“He said, ‘I can’t be mayor like I want to be mayor and I don’t want to be lesser than I was 20 years ago,’ ” said David Passafaro, a Menino friend and former chief of staff, who met with the mayor in Hyde Park a week ago and at City Hall on Monday. “Everybody knows his style of being mayor, and he said, ‘I don’t want to be less than that.’ ”

Menino first began privately considering the idea that it was time to go last fall, when he was in the midst of an unexpectedly complicated stay at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

He had an upper respiratory infection, a blood clot that had traveled from a leg to his lungs, a spinal fracture, and type 2 diabetes.

Lying in a hospital bed, the mayor wondered whether he would ever be able to resume his frenetic schedule of groundbreakings and community banquets. “That’s how I get my oxygen,” he said, “in the neighborhoods of Boston.”

After Menino was released from the Brigham two days before Christmas, his advisers hoped he could regain his strength and run again. He was sleeping better at the Parkman House and had begun making trips back to City Hall. Their focus shifted to getting a frail figure ready for his State of the City address, his biggest moment in the public eye each year. Would he have the stamina to take the stage and deliver a major address?

On Jan. 29, he used a cane to walk up the center aisle of Faneuil Hall and delivered his State of the City speech to a cheering audience of 800. It was a triumphant return to the public stage.

On the sound system, Kelly Clarkson sang, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

But the high point proved fleeting as the mayor continued to struggle physically over the next two months, enduring ailments that made polls and political calculations feel peripheral. Ultimately, Menino made the call that evening at the kitchen table. He said that at first, he didn’t even tell his wife.

“He came to it, and he held it kind of close to himself for a few days to see how it felt,” Passafaro said.

The mayor had been undergoing physical therapy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File 2012

The mayor had been undergoing physical therapy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Then he began breaking the news to friends. Passafaro got a phone call from Menino on Tuesday morning.

“It wasn’t a shock and it wasn’t a surprise, but to hear him say it out loud, it took me back a step, you know?” Passafaro said. “I hung up the phone and said, ‘Wow.’ ”

Angelo M. Scaccia, a state representative from Hyde Park, got a call Wednesday night. He has known Menino since 1973, when he hired a 30-year-old Menino to run his first campaign for the House.

“Shocked? Of course I was shocked,” Scaccia said. “I thought he seemed to be getting better physically.”

As word of Menino’s decision became public Wednesday night, the calls started flooding in to the mayor, including one from Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who told the mayor he was thinking of him and praying for him.

The next day, Menino stood on a stage at Faneuil Hall and told Boston it was time for him to leave City Hall.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.
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