Signs pointing to a run for a sixth term are easy to spot: Mayor Thomas M. Menino has turned feisty and combative in a series of television interviews, branding the mayoral campaign of City Councilor John R. Connolly as the quest of a “nice boy.”
He has ramped up his public schedule, hitting his well-worn circuit of ribbon cuttings and community meetings — with a few stops on Connolly’s home turf, West Roxbury. And then there’s his almost svelte physique and trimmer suits, evidence of the strict diet since being diagnosed with diabetes. It all gives him the look of someone getting back into fighting shape.
But the mayor’s recent fund-raising efforts suggest a different story line. Since January, Menino has deposited roughly $24,000 into his campaign account. Compare that with the $241,000 that flooded his coffers during the comparable period in 2009 as he geared up for a reelection fight against Michael F. Flaherty Jr. Or the $145,000 haul in early 2005 as he prepared for Maura Hennigan’s challenge.
Some days at City Hall, the 70-year-old Menino can seem wistful, almost nostalgic about his two decades in office, like a man contemplating what it would be like to say good-bye. The truth, according to staffers, friends, and acquaintances, is that Menino is struggling with the decision about whether to run.
Menino dropped the coy banter earlier this month when he was pushed hard about his intentions during an appearance on WFXT-TV (Channel 25). The TV host declared the mayor was clearly launching another campaign. “That’s not a true statement,” Menino said. “I haven’t made that decision.”
In an interview last week with the Globe, Menino resembled the man from that television tete-a-tete, feisty and defiant and focused on the city’s future. But he also offered no clarity about his thinking, refused to commit to a timeline for making a decision, and dismissed attempts to interpret the political signals.
“The only people reading signs are the media,” Menino said. “I’ve been out in the streets every day talking to people, gauging their interest in a campaign. And they’re very interested in Menino. Mayor Menino.”
Speculation about his lackluster fund-raising, Menino said, “really gets my goat.” Because he was hospitalized, Menino said, he missed the most fruitful months of the year: October, November, and December. And he pointed to the healthy balance in his campaign account.
“I have over $600,000 now,” Menino said. “If I had $2 million, like if I wasn’t sick for eight weeks and I’d probably have, the media would say, ‘How did he get all that money?’ ”
No one doubts that the five-term mayor could quickly turn on his fund-raising spigot. The question remains: Why hasn’t he?
Reporters and politicians track fund-raising figures the way some avid fans scrutinize baseball statistics, crunching numbers for insight. Fund-raising — or lack of it — can send a message. Menino still has significantly more than Connolly, whose most recent bank report showed a balance of roughly $345,000.
Menino must decide by 5 p.m. May 13 whether to apply for nomination papers, the first step in getting his name on the ballot for the preliminary election, scheduled for Sept. 24. The top two vote-getters will compete Nov. 5.
Each day Menino delays his decision, other mayoral hopefuls sit on the sidelines, unwilling to challenge the incumbent. Some have begun raising money for a campaign if Menino steps aside, such as Representative Martin J. Walsh, a Democrat from Dorchester.
“If the mayor decides not to seek another term, I’m absolutely going to be running,” Walsh said, adding that he has raised $100,000 this year, bringing his balance to $200,000. “If the mayor decides to seek another term, I’m 100 percent supporting the mayor.”
If he decides to retire, Menino, by having delayed his decision, may be giving Connolly a head start in the scramble for an open seat. Some think that will be a moot point, however, because they are convinced the mayor will seek reelection.
“there is probably a 90 percent bet he is running,” said Kevin Phelan, an executive with the real estate firm Colliers International who has known Menino for decades. “Frankly, I think it’s somewhat of a given. I think the business community would be stunned, shocked, and scrambling if he weren’t to run. The business community has all the confidence in the world in what this guy is doing and how he does it.”
There is other evidence that could be seen as groundwork for a campaign. Menino’s administration has unveiled a series of initiatives aimed at women, a key constituency.
And The mayor recently announced the purchase of a North End building for a new school, which could blunt Connolly’s assertions about inadequate school facilities.
Menino has opted to remain neutral in the Democratic primary in the special election for US Senate, a maneuver that avoids alienating more conservative supporters of US Representative Stephen F. Lynch or the more liberal base of US Representative Edward J. Markey.
And then there was a classic political tweak from Menino a few weeks ago in Jamaica Plain.
his campaign committee hosted one of its annual neighborhood breakfasts. Menino was introduced at the small-dollar event by Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, a move certain to get a rise out of mayoral candidate John R. Connolly.
The district attorney, who defended Menino’s record and described him as a second father, has more than a similar surname to the mayoral hopeful.
Both men come from the western reaches of Boston. And Conley, the district attorney, has a campaign chest brimming with more than $866,000, which would instantly make him a viable candidate for mayor if the seat were to come open.
In the interview last week, Menino rejected the suggestion that he was making political mischief at the expense of the new mayoral candidate. Menino said that when he first ran for City Council in 1983, Conley, the district attorney, ran his campaign office.
“I thought it was appropriate to have him introduce me as I’m closing out my fifth term,” Menino said. “You guys think so much into this stuff. I’m getting a little tired of it.”
Andrew Ryan can be reached at email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.