‘They have to trust you, and you have to trust them’
Lessons I’ve learned from two decades in office.
This has been a historic week for our city. Now that the election night celebrations are over, the balloons and confetti swept up, the bright lights and the cameras turned off, here we are, absorbing the news that we have the first new mayor-elect in a generation.
It has been an honor to serve this great city and to be at this turning point, soon to become Boston’s former mayor. These transitions are never easy — it is certainly emotional for me. They are filled with excitement and uncertainty for everyone. The expectations are sky-high. I don’t see this anticipation changing any time soon, but one thing I know for certain is that I have never been more hopeful about this city’s future.
When I was in Marty Walsh’s shoes 20 years ago, I was lucky to have friends and family to remind me who I was and who had gotten me there. I tried never to forget where I came from or take for granted the trust of so many voters. I will provide the mayor-elect and his team with every bit of information they need, but I would also like to share some of the things that have helped me throughout the years. They aren’t fancy or complicated, but they get the job done.
The greatest strength of this city is our people. They have to trust you, and you have to trust them. I found that spending time going to every event throughout the city, letting people ask me questions and learning their concerns, made governing easier. Some of the best ideas of my administration came from conversations at coffee shops, ribbon-cuttings, and in our parks and schools. Some used to say I spent too much time in the neighborhoods — but I think our city’s success speaks for itself. The people made the difference.
I remember one day we had a horrible tragedy, a shooting that took a life in our community. There was a mother who witnessed it and was courageous enough to tell the police. She came to my office because I wanted to thank her for helping get the bad guys off our streets. She brought her young kids with her. I asked what they did after school, and she said, “Nothing.” When she said she was afraid to let her children play outside, I thought, No way, not in my city. That afternoon, I brought members of my team together and told them this needed to change. We started the Violence Intervention Program, which has knocked on thousands of doors to deliver better services and to get citizens connected to one another and the city agencies that can help fix the issues that cause this fear. The program still works today.
I always wanted to make sure I could lie down at night knowing I did what I thought was best. I’m not sure where I learned that — maybe from my wife, Angela, or from knowing that my grandkids would inherit this city. My first year in office, my “political” people thought I was crazy when I told them I would not march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. One of the largest voting blocs in the city was South Boston, and I was going to make many very unhappy. But you know what? It was the right thing to do. We now have more equality, and the ban on gay marriage was first overturned right here in good old Boston.
From the very beginning, I knew I wanted people to know that I would try my best to be inclusive and represent all of the city’s people. I believe we are a better city now than we were 20 years ago, but more work needs to be done. I am confident that work will continue. When I took office in 1993, I hired Alyce Lee as my first chief of staff, Merita Hopkins as my corporation counsel, and, later, Kathleen O’Toole as the first female police commissioner. I tried to send a message that my administration would not be filled with political appointments, but would include talented people from across our great city.
As most people who know me have heard, the status quo means you’re going backward. The city needs new ideas, new life, and new energy all the time. I used to be called the “Urban Mechanic” because I was focused so much on the nuts and bolts of fixing problems like broken street lights, potholes, and graffiti — but that stuff is important! The New Urban Mechanics have brought that same sense of urgency to fixing our streets and cleaning our neighborhoods to a new generation of residents who use e-mail and smartphones. We must keep improving, and I know we will. The citizens of this city will demand it, and I’m so proud of that.
During these days of transition, I will do my best to keep Boston moving forward and to prepare the city’s team for a new beginning. I’m excited — this city is humming. I am proud to know that Walsh will have the best residents, business leaders, and civic advocates helping him, and I know Boston’s best days are still to come.
Thomas M. Menino is Boston’s 53d mayor. Send comments to email@example.com.