I am dead to Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. The angel of death, whose voice bore a strong resemblance to the mayor’s press secretary Dot Joyce, descended on me one year ago to deliver the news — “The mayor will never speak to Larry Harmon again.’’ When someone close to the mayor starts referring to you in the third person, you know they aren’t kidding around.
I was rubbed out after writing a column criticizing Menino for misusing a City Hall-controlled nonprofit fund meant to beautify Boston. He had tapped it to buy charm bracelets for departing staffers. I couldn’t see how wrist bling for a few trusted aides helped to make Boston a more beautiful place. Still can’t.
There is plenty of company in Menino’s boneyard: former political opponents, out-of-favor cops, recalcitrant developers, and business owners who didn’t fall quickly into line. Pollsters love to point out how half of all Bostonians have met the mayor in person. Next time they should ask how many people have been frozen out by the mayor. They might discover a Boston netherworld where the dead outnumber the living.
Former Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon is deader than dead to Menino. Yoon was a rising political star in 2009 when he tried to unseat Menino. Now he lives in exile in northern Virginia. After losing, Yoon wanted to resume his career in Boston as a nonprofit manager. He was smart enough to know that prospective employers needed assurances that they could hire him without ending up on Menino’s enemy list. So Yoon reached out repeatedly for a personal sit-down with the mayor. Menino snubbed him, and doors started to slam in Yoon’s face.
“The word got back to me,’’ said Yoon. “Radioactive.’’
I am dead to Menino. So are former political opponents, out-of-favor cops, recalcitrant developers, and business owners who didn’t fall quickly into line.
Political strategist Jim Spencer is another goner. His crime was giving creative campaign advice to former City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who challenged the mayor in the 2009 final election. Though he lost, Flaherty ran Menino ragged during election season. That experience probably contributed to the five-term mayor’s decision not to put himself through another race this year against a younger, healthier opponent.
Spencer expected he would hear from the mayor’s camp about the possibility of future employment. That’s how it works in professional politics. The winner scouts talent from a losing team that manages to make a good showing despite being vastly outspent. But Spencer said the mayor would hardly look at him. And when he did, “It was like he was going to climb off the podium and strangle me.’’
Spencer summed up Menino’s philosophy like this: “If you don’t love me, fear me.’’
Menino has spoofed his own vindictive tendencies, most notably in a video that cast him as godfather Vito Corleone. In it, Menino chides developer Don Chiofaro for trying to build a waterfront tower on the Greenway without paying due deference to the mayor and his minions. The video was pretty cute. But an ugly garage still remains on Chiofaro’s parcel.
Menino is toughest on those in his own profession. City Clerk Maureen Feeney found herself in Menino’s freezer for about a year during her days as a district city councilor from Dorchester. Her offense: Support for hiring an independent attorney to advise the City Council. Former City Councilor Gareth Saunders, who represented a high-crime district from 1994 to 1999, suddenly found himself fighting “tooth and nail’’ to ensure that police recruits would be assigned to the police station in Roxbury. Saunders believes the freeze-out was payback for his earlier attempt to replace the mayorally appointed school committee with an elected body.
Meanwhile, restaurateurs who rub Menino the wrong way find themselves subject to what one political observer calls “constant underwear checks’’ from city inspectors.
Menino has been widely praised of late for his 20-year stewardship of Boston. But it will be a nice change if Boston ends up next year with a mayor who can make firm decisions without trying to eviscerate those who challenge or disagree with him.
No one, for the record, is deader to Menino than Kubie, a 400-pound Western lowland gorilla. During a 1997 gathering of political dignitaries at the Franklin Park Zoo, an agitated Kubie pelted Menino with — let’s put this delicately — Rhesus pieces. A few months later, Kubie died of complications from anesthesia during his annual physical. That was the official explanation, at least.
Does anyone have the number of a good forensic pathologist with no connection to the Menino administration?
Lawrence Harmon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.