By now, we’ve all seen the evidence of Mitt Romney’s sorry post-election life. In the past month, he’s been caught pumping his own gas — without hair gel! — and taking in rides at Disneyland. He went to the White House for an hour and ate turkey chili. According to the Washington Post, he ordered Boston Market for Thanksgiving.
That’s what happens when you lose the big one, and you don’t have a Senate seat to fall back on; deprived of his lifelong goal, holed up in his beach house in La Jolla, he’s a wannabe titan, sorely in need of a purpose.
So when word spread last week about the extent of Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s ailments, when speculation followed that this term would be Menino’s last, when questions rose about whether someone from the business world would run, the thought came to my mind — and maybe someone else’s — that there is a perfect outsider for the job. Float it on your tongue for a minute: Mayor Mitt.
Granted, this is largely a thought experiment, not least because Romney is a Belmont man; even if he snapped up a pied-a-terre in the Back Bay, he probably couldn’t squeak into the next election under the residency rules. Besides, Romney would probably scoff at the idea. If the Massachusetts governorship seemed puny to him, could he settle for running a city smaller than Charlotte?
But for fun, set aside the ego and the technical issues. Romney has one final asset in public life: His legacy, which is now at risk of being swallowed by a losing race and that crack about the 47 percent. So you can see where the idea — reputation restoration, via mayoralty — might work out nicely for everyone involved. (And if Boston won’t work, maybe Mitt could take on a similar role, as post-retirement public servant, in one of the many places he calls home.)
The beauty of a mayorship, as far as Romney goes, is that it’s less an ideological job than a technocratic one. Without the desire to use his office as a stepping stone, Romney would be free to problem-solve, to do the kind of work that made him an appealing public servant in the first place.
Boston doesn’t need saving the way the 2002 Olympics did; the city seems to be running smoothly enough with Menino laid up at Spaulding. But Boston does have intractable issues that could use a steady hand. We need an ongoing vision for development, a strong voice for fixing inequities in public transportation. We need bold ideas about public health, gang violence, the schools. Maybe Mitt could even figure out something useful to do with City Hall Plaza. Car elevators, perhaps?
The model here, obviously, is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who — out of fearlessness, hubris, and chutzpah— has been using New York as a public policy lab. Once, that was Romney’s role, too. From the State House, he brokered deals. He declared that he’d fix the Sagamore Bridge, and he did. Before he thought he had to hide from health care reform, he made something remarkable happen.
So what if he never did well with the little folks? Mayor Mitt wouldn’t have to go to every ribbon-cutting or community meeting. That’s Menino’s thing. Mitt could be the fixer, the big-picture guy, ensuring that Boston keeps wielding an outsized influence on American life.
I mean no disrespect to the other potential candidates. They’d all have a shot against a damaged brand: a man who lost Massachusetts in November, and who lost Boston when he ran for governor.
But that’s where those sad-sack pictures could help. Despite everything that has happened — even those bitter remarks about Obama’s “gifts” — I’ve detected a note of sympathy for Romney over the past few weeks. Even people who didn’t want to see him as president know that he works hard and has something to offer. Maybe, on a smaller stage, they’d take him in.
So what do you say, Mitt? You could hide out in your beach house or your lake house or your ski house. You could sit behind a desk at your son’s venture capital firm. Or you could do something, in one of your hometowns, that makes us remember you well.