On Wednesday evening, when news broke that Boston Mayor Tom Menino won’t run for a sixth term, I was watching preview episodes of “Game of Thrones,” the HBO series that starts its third season tonight. And in my mind, the fictional kingdom of Westeros merged with the real-life story of the mayor-for-life. Somehow I could imagine Menino lounging, in his grandfatherly glory, on a huge Iron Throne of his own.
“Game of Thrones” is about the quest to own that spooky-looking chair. On the surface, the show, with its medieval swordplay and dragons and supernatural wolves, seems as far from Hyde Park as you can get. But the show’s most compelling storylines are about the human beings who are jockeying to rule the kingdom. And for anyone interested in politics, “Game of Thrones” is essential viewing, the best rumination on power that has ever aired on TV.
Leadership in Westeros is brutal business. Armies are amassed, loyalties shift, and nobody says a word that can be taken at face value. It’s enough to make you appreciate our flawed but bloodless democratic system. Still, you can draw some analogies between Westeros and Menino’s Boston. Regular elections notwithstanding, a big-city mayorship is probably as close to a medieval monarchy as any American political position could be. A mayor can amass a political machine that functions as its own sort of army. And a city is self-contained enough to bear the mark of its longtime leader.
For two decades, Menino has managed to shape Boston in his image, as a place where neighborhoods maintain a strong identity, municipal services dominate the priority list, and development meets the strict specifications of City Hall. The City Council provides few checks on the mayor’s power. Menino, unchallenged, has governed almost with an iron fist.
And yet, for someone who lacks traditional political charisma, Menino has generated unfathomable loyalty, both within his Brutalist palace and outside of it. A 74 percent favorability rating isn’t just respect. It’s adoration.
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