LOWELL — With 77 days left in office, Mayor Thomas M. Menino spoke publicly Monday for the first time about his plans after he leaves the job he has occupied for two decades.
Menino told a forum at the University of Massachusetts Lowell that he has received offers to lecture and organize conferences at Boston, Harvard, Northeastern, and Suffolk universities.
“I’ll make a decision in the next couple of weeks,” he said. “I haven’t made a deal yet, so nobody is the front-runner. I’m a mercenary right now.”
Officials at Harvard said the Kennedy School of Government and the School of Public Health have offered the mayor fellowships because they want to tap his “considerable expertise.”
“The mayor has guest-
lectured on several occasions at both [Harvard College] and the Kennedy School, and has always received strong, positive feedback from students and faculty,” said Christine Heenan, a Harvard vice president of public affairs.
The other universities did not respond to e-mails or calls requesting comment.
Menino said he will not take a job on the state payroll or work as a lobbyist. Job offers from the private sector would pay him a lot of money, he acknowledged, but he has turned those down.
“I could make as much as I want now,” he said. “. . . This isn’t about money. I want to do something for kids.”
When asked at the forum about his greatest achievement as mayor, he cited helping change Boston’s reputation as a bitterly racist city to one that prizes its diversity.
“I think I brought people together more than before,” he said.
“Boston was a real racist city at one point,” he said. “You don’t read about that anymore. We gave opportunity to a lot of people in our city that didn’t have opportunity in the past.”
In a wide-ranging conversation with Brian Mooney, a former Boston Globe reporter and now a special assistant for strategic communications at UMass Lowell, Menino said he continues to support a proposal for an East Boston casino, despite the unexpected withdrawal last week of Caesars Entertainment from its partnership with Suffolk Downs.
He called it a lucrative agreement for the city and described it as “the best deal cut with any city in America” for a casino.
Menino said he wants East Boston residents to vote as scheduled in a Nov. 5 referendum on the casino. He said Suffolk Downs officials are working overtime to find a new partner by then.
“I’d like to see the casino part decided by the vote as quickly as possible,” he told reporters afterward.
On the upcoming election to replace him, he continued to avoid endorsing either of the final candidates.
“I don’t care who wins,” he said.
When Mooney asked whether Councilor at Large John R. Connolly or state Representative Martin J. Walsh was more like him, he demurred. “Neither one,” he said.
He called them “distinct individuals” and said he thinks it will be a close race.
Menino did praise Connolly for recruiting “a cadre of mothers who go knocking on doors with baby carriages,” compared with the traditional endorsements and union support that Walsh has received.
“That’s a different voting pattern than most of us have,” he said.
Although he noted he differs “a little” with Connolly on education issues, he called education “the most important thing we can do.”
Menino said it is critical that his successor choose wisely when building a staff, and he called on the new mayor to remain friendly with leaders in the local business, university, and health care communities.
Menino took umbrage at criticism leveled in the campaign against the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which some have said allows the mayor too much authority over billions of dollars in development. He has been criticized recently for appearing to rush projects through before leaving office.
“These projects that are going through have been in the pipeline for years,” he said, noting Harvard’s expansion into Allston, recently approved, took seven years to win agency backing.
He said talk about the agency’s apparent lack of transparency “drives me crazy.”
“Transparency exists today,” he said, noting development proposals must go through multiple public meetings before approval.
He said two financial companies called him recently to say they were holding back on deals after some candidates said they wanted to “blow up” the agency. “They said to me we’re not going to invest in your city, because we have instability at the Redevelopment Authority,” he said.
When asked about security at the World Series, he said there could not be too much.
“I’m not worried about it at all,” he said. “We’ll have a plan in place that will work, and we’ll reassure people that it’s safe to go to the ballgame.”
He rolled his eyes when asked whether he would make any bets on the Red Sox-
Cardinals tilt with the mayor of St. Louis, who declined to make a friendly wager. “He said it takes too much of his staff’s time,” Menino said.
When asked about his health, the mayor acknowledged that the job has taken a toll. Most days, he gets only four or five hours of sleep, often working from 4:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. But he said he would not change a thing.
“I love the job,” he said.
Menino said he has already booked a flight to leave town in January, after the new mayor takes office. “I don’t want to be the critic,” he said. “It doesn’t do the city any good.”