After an extended hospital stay, Mayor Tom Menino’s ability to pick up where he left off is a testament to the good will he has banked with Boston voters.
It’s also a testament to the lock Menino has on city politics — as well as to the power of the old-boy network when it comes to protecting its own interests.
When contractions sent acting Governor Jane Swift to the hospital in 2001, she was blasted for trying to preside over a Governor’s Council meeting by speaker phone. The birth of Swift’s twin daughters launched a heated public debate over how much time she should take off, and whether it was okay to work from her home in western Massachusetts. Critics assailed the idea of a “remote” governorship, and there were calls for her to allow Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat, to become acting governor to the acting governor.
Yes, the politics of Swift’s situation were very different. She was a 36-year-old Republican woman, who had been acting governor for only a month. Her public approval ratings as lieutenant governor were already low, and Massachusetts Democrats did their best to keep them that way. Swift lacked the experience and seasoned staff to blunt their attacks. In the end, she was shunted aside by Mitt Romney, a fellow Republican.
Still, the contrasting deference to Menino, as he turns 70 and contemplates a sixth term, is striking. For nearly eight weeks, Menino ran the city from his hospital bed and was out of sight for much of that time. He met the press only after an assortment of would-be mayors started winning mentions as prospective candidates and pundits urged him to quit the job he has held for nearly 20 years. One interview with reporters, which was designed to allay concerns about his fitness for office, did the opposite. It yielded a portrait of a physically weak mayor, who had more trouble than usual speaking clearly.
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