Tom Menino bowed out as Boston’s mayor with his signature common touch and with uncommon grace. His departure was truly one of his finest moments.
And it was among his best decisions. He understood what some of his supporters didn’t understand — that the decision never really hinged on being able to win another election. His declaration Thursday — “I can run, I can win” — probably was true. But governing was another matter.
Menino leaves a huge legacy, and it goes way beyond his record-setting length of tenure. He joins James Michael Curley and Kevin White as the architects of Boston as we know it. He leaves a city transformed, much for the better.
Aside from proclaiming the end of an era, the most important statement Menino made last week was that he has no intention of attempting to pick a successor. Call me naive, but I believe he meant it, and I think it was another good decision, one he should stick to.
This city is ripe for change, and Menino knows it. The worst thing he could do would be to cave in to the desire of some supporters to push for a successor who promises to continue his rule.
At this point, the field is a muddle. City Councilor John Connolly is a declared candidate, and state Representative Marty Walsh is an undeclared candidate. Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley will almost certainly run. With a hefty bank account and an office he doesn’t have to give up, why not? The business community may be casting about for a candidate, and Jim Rooney of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority seems to be angling to be their guy.
Many other potential candidates seem to be busy measuring their campaign accounts, their breadth of support, and their stomach for a race.
Half the City Council and much of the Boston delegation at the State House have been mentioned as possible candidates. But understand that some of them think it is good for business to be mentioned as candidates; it doesn’t mean they have any intention of running.
So far, there is with nothing resembling a front-runner
You may have noticed something about the above list. It’s a tad, well, homogeneous. For all the talk — two decades of talk — about the “new Boston,” that list doesn’t exactly scream new. This race may well be held without a single female candidate, which is surprising only until you think about the number of women who hold office in this town.
Whether a person of color will get into the mix remains to be seen as well. City councilors Felix Arroyo, Tito Jackson, and Charles Yancey are thinking it over, but none of them is a sure thing.
History says that voters don’t know what they want until they see it. Boston has had three mayors in the past 45 years, and they could hardly have been more different. The main thing they shared was proving that they were really good at the job.
That is why the idea of looking for the next Menino is silly. The city is so different from 1993, the last time Boston voters really had to think long and hard about what they wanted in a leader. The only certainty is that voters will want to start fresh. They always do. Even the Menino soldiers I’ve talked to are relishing the opportunity to think for themselves. They’ve been taking orders for a long time.
Among Menino’s greatest gifts has been his understanding — unusual among Boston politicians of his now-departed generation — that the city is always churning, always changing.
It doesn’t need, and probably doesn’t want, the next Tom Menino. What Boston needs is its next great mayor — or, as Menino eloquently put it, someone who loves this city as much as he does.
Let’s hope he — or maybe even she — is out there.