Ancient Romans marked their public monuments with an emblem of civic ownership — “SPQR,” the “Senate and people of Rome.” During his 20 years in office, former Mayor Tom Menino made sure every Bostonian would regularly see a different marking: his own name.
On Monday, thousands of street signs, garbage bins, murals, and city vehicles became outdated. All those signs will eventually need to be replaced or altered, at a completely avoidable cost to the taxpayers. The new mayor, Marty Walsh, has said he won’t rush to emblazon his own name in Menino’s place, but during the campaign he didn’t rule out continuing the practice, either.
Politicians plastering their names on signs is a self-serving tradition that serves no useful purpose, and only fuels public cynicism. Nor is it universal; after a scandal felled former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, a politician known for festooning his name on highway signs, the state banned officials from putting their names on billboards and signs. In Massachusetts, former governor Mitt Romney voluntarily kept his name off highway signs at the state border when he took office in 2003.
It shouldn’t take a scandal for Boston to follow suit. As the Menino signs come down, Walsh should leave his own name off the replacements. Or, he could borrow a page from the Romans, and credit the public works of Boston to those who paid for them: the people of Boston.