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The Boston Globe

Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

What’s it like to run against Menino? Lonely

What’s it like to run against Mayor Thomas M. Menino? Very lonely.

The ballroom at the Seaport Hotel was packed with 500 business and civic leaders, all there to hear Menino deliver his twentieth annual address to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.

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Seated at the perimeter of the room, about as far away from Menino as a person could get, was the bravest politician in Boston – John R. Connolly, the city councilor who launched a mayoral campaign against an incumbent who has yet to say whether he will run again.

“I’m a pariah,” said Connolly with a smile, when asked about his seat assignment. “Every other city councilor is seated at a table with a major business figure in Boston. I’m at a table with folks who registered at the last minute.”

Being relegated to no-man’s land didn’t diminish Connolly’s feistiness. Asked his reaction to Menino’s optimistic remarks about progress made in Boston schools, Connolly said, “He has a tendency to embrace reform once it happens. “ And that, Connolly said, adds up “to a lot of lost opportunities for Boston’s children.”

It’s going to take feistiness and more to fight the power of incumbency that’s so apparent at a gathering like this. Sam Tyler, president of the research bureau, pointed out in his remarks that the Menino administration was out in force; about 65 cabinet officers and staff people were in the audience. John Drew, chairman of the research bureau board, introduced the mayor as “our leader”.  

Menino, in bright red tie and crisp white shirt, used a cane to walk into the event. But he put it aside when it came time to deliver his speech. Instead, he used handrails to pull himself up the steps that led to the podium.

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As he has for 20 years, Menino used the event to promote the best spin possible about Boston. This year, the good tidings included his announcement that Wegmans Food market, a family-run supermarket chain, will open its first Boston store in the Landmark Center in the Fenway.  

The rest of the speech stressed the pace of progress in Boston, which in Menino’s view is, of course, very fast.

The speech also included a reference to the “status quo” and Menino’s observation that “Just moving forward isn’t enough. We have to move ahead aggressively and relentlessly.”   That seemed like an obvious response to Connolly’s reference to Menino as “the comfortable status quo” at last week’s campaign kick-off rally.

Is Menino running for a sixth term? That is the question Boston’s movers and shakers are trying to answer. “It sounded like a re-election announcement to me,” said Bob Ryan, onetime head of Boston’s redevelopment authority, as he headed out the door. Another leading Boston business figure who didn’t want to be named said he would bet “everything in his wallet” the mayor is running again. However, he added that for the first time, he’s picking up uncertainty from those around Menino.

But as Connolly is finding out, as long as another Menino run is possible, running against him won’t be comfortable.

 “Should I go over and shake his hand?” mused developer Don Chiofaro, as the event broke up and he watched Connolly make his way towards the exit.

Then Chiofaro answered his own question by staying right where he was. 

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.

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