A photo taken a few weeks ago at the White House, at an event celebrating a Boston achievement, shows a smiling president and vice president with their good friend, the mayor of Boston.
Make that the former mayor, Thomas M. Menino. He was the one who accompanied the Red Sox when they were honored by President Obama for winning the 2013 World Series. The new mayor, Marty Walsh, was busy attending to the deaths of two firefighters, so Menino, also on the invite list, took over.
Menino’s has been a surprisingly busy and high-profile postmayoralty. Many of his appearances have been related to the anniversary of the Boston Marathon attack, but not all. At the Red Sox home opener, Walsh threw out the first pitch after Menino, who was driven to the mound in a cart, handed him the ball.
Menino seems to be fully embracing a role Boston has never quite seen before. He’s the city’s first mayor emeritus. He doesn’t comment on policy or talk about Walsh’s performance. His latest role is far more spiritual than political.
Menino says he hasn’t sought this visibility. “I don’t go anywhere I’m not invited,” he said. “I’ve worked with the [Marathon] survivors for a year and when they asked me to be there, it was my place to be there. I’m not trying to get in Marty’s way. I had my time, and this is his time.”
Still, he has been busier than he anticipated. With a chuckle, he noted that he went to a book signing at Doyle’s the other night for a children’s book that has recently been published about him, “Goodbye, Mr. Mayor.”
“I get more invitations than I have in my whole life,” he said. “I’ve been to New York, Washington, New Hampshire twice, and I canceled a trip to California.”
By historical standards, this is all highly unusual. Ex-mayors traditionally fade away upon leaving office. Partly, that is a matter of wanting to leave the stage to their successors. But, also, most mayors haven’t left with Menino’s popularity.
Kevin White left in 1984 under a cloud — an investigation by the US attorney’s office. White was never charged with anything, but after assuming a lifetime sinecure on the Boston University faculty, he led a relatively low-profile existence.
His successor, Ray Flynn, left City Hall in 1993 to become US ambassador to the Vatican, guaranteeing that he wouldn’t be heard from locally for a while. But even after his return, his difficult relationship with Menino guaranteed that they wouldn’t be sharing many stages together.
Menino sounded upbeat Sunday discussing his busy schedule. Friends speculate that it has been therapeutic as he battles the cancer diagnosed shortly after leaving office. In his last days in office, it was readily apparent that he was ambivalent about returning to private life after two decades of running the city. It’s turning out to be less private than most people assumed.
Even Menino’s close associates are surprised by his frequent presence, often alongside Walsh. They’ve never been particularly close, and still aren’t. But if there is any awkwardness in their joint appearances, it doesn’t show.
“Frankly, Menino never would have stood for a former mayor being as visible as he’s been,” said a longtime Menino associate who asked not to be identified. “It speaks very highly of Marty Walsh that he’s fine with it. He’s been incredibly gracious.”
Walsh said he maintains a open-door policy with both Menino and Flynn. “They’re more than welcome to come to any event I’m at, and they’re welcome in the office anytime,” he said. “They served the city for 30 years. It’s not a competition between us.”
Menino, once seen as a sometimes bare-knuckled power broker, is now seen more as a beloved family patriarch. It’s a new role not just for him, but for Boston.
“I’m the luckiest guy in America,” Menino said Sunday. “People have been so good to me. I feel great.”Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.