When he came to office in 1993 Thomas Menino, may have understood better than many that Boston had to change. He was, after all, a member of an ethnic minority and Boston’s first Italian-American mayor. He understood that the old battles across the fault lines of Yankee and Irish, town and gown, black and white, native and immigrant, Catholic and Protestant, Southie and Roxbury, public and parochial (and now charter), gay and straight, downtown and neighborhood were making Boston increasingly dysfunctional. Lots of people were working on building bridges across those divides; but it made a major difference to have a mayor who consistently and effectively talked about and worked on bringing this city together.
From public safety coalitions to educational reform initiatives, from rebuilding streets decimated by old riots to fostering a new innovation district, there’s been a consistent focus on making Boston a place of welcome and opportunity for everyone. Has he done it flawlessly? No way. Thomas Menino is very human, not divine. But he has left his successor a great legacy of partnerships that can help this city tackle its educational, employment, housing, climate, and other challenges.
I’ll never forget sitting in the mayor’s office and asking him about an upcoming election. On the streets and in the media people were bemoaning and wringing their hands over the prospect of old racial and gender animosities being stirred up once again. The mayor, six months in advance, dismissed the conventional wisdom and correctly called the winner of the election. He said, “It doesn’t matter what people say. Boston has changed.” This city has changed and this city is poised for even greater and better change. And when that change comes it will, in no small measure, reflect the leadership of a mayor named Tom Menino.