A day after his release from the hospital, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino paid his annual Christmas Eve visit to a Dorchester youth center Monday, saying it felt good to be out and about in the city again, especially during the holidays.
“It gives you an energy,” Menino told a crowd that gathered around his SUV near the steps of the Teen Center at St. Peter’s in the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood, where young children were receiving donated toys. “It’s good to be back in touch with people.”
Menino remained in the front passenger seat of his car during an exchange with reporters and neighborhood families, and said he was happy to be out of the hospital after nearly eight weeks.
“I’m feeling great,” he told the crowd. “I’m as good as I’ve ever been.”
“That’s great to hear,” one woman said. “You and your family have a blessed holiday.”
Menino left Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Sunday morning, but instead of going to his Hyde Park home, he is staying in the city-owned Parkman House on Beacon Hill, where he can use the elevator as he works to regain strength in his legs.
Menino was initially treated for an upper respiratory infection and a blood clot in his lung, but while in the hospital suffered a spine fracture and then developed an infection in the same area.
On Monday, Menino seemed at ease as he bantered with a group of children, who serenaded him with “Jingle Bells” and an early “Happy Birthday.”
“Who’s coming tonight?” Menino asked the children, who replied “Santa!”
“What’s he going to bring you?”
“Toys!” they giggled.
The children marveled at the mayor’s shiny Tahoe hybrid SUV, with one saying it was “all the ways big.” But Menino surprised them by telling them he actually lives in a “little tiny” house.
Leaning out the window, he asked the kids where they went to school and asked one child what he wanted to be when he grows up. A doctor, the boy said.
“You can be anything you want to be,” Menino said. “Just stay focused.”
Asked how Christmas would be different this year, Menino said that for once he wouldn’t be doing the cooking. He would remain an active participant, however.
“I’m testing the food,” he said. “I’ll be the chief critic.”
When leaving the hospital Sunday, Menino grew emotional speaking about his annual visit with the children, and said it is the kind of neighborhood event he had missed the most during his hospital stay.
At the event, Menino said it lifted his spirits to see children happy at Christmas.
“It’s all about these kids here,” he said. “Hoping they have a better future.”
Menino praised the recent Boston Globe series on Bowdoin-Geneva, and said the neighborhood had made great strides in recent years.
“Some of those folks are real heroes in the neighborhood,” he said, referring to the residents featured in the Globe stories. “We’ve had a lot of improvements in Bowdoin-Geneva.”
When reporters asked Menino about politics, Menino said he hoped the Democrats would not have a drawn-out primary for the open US Senate seat.
“It’s going to be an interesting fight,” he said. “I think the public is looking for a candidate that’s different. They don’t want the same-old, same-old.”
Inside the teen center, children selected toys from a big pile on a stage, from stuffed animals and board games to rescue helicopters and trucks. Then they went outside to thank the mayor for the presents.
“Thank you, mayor!” said sisters Lazette and Lisa Aljoe.
“Don’t thank me; thank Santa Claus,” Menino said.Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.