Former state Senate president Robert Travaglini, who served on the Boston City Council with Mayor Menino, said he had lunch with Menino and a small group in East Boston two weeks ago, and saw a man still struggling to recover from a serious illness.
“You could see that the energy and the full recovery just wasn’t happening at the pace that was necessary for him to undertake a campaign,” Travaglini said in a telephone interview as he discussed Menino’s decision not to seek reelection.
Travaglini — one of many political figures reacting to Menino’s planned retirement today — said he thinks Menino made the right choice.
“I love Tom Menino,” said Travaglini. “He’s been one of my closest political friends for a very long time. I’m overjoyed that he will experience the luxury of leaving at the top of his game and at his own time. He deserves that right for all he’s done to change the face of this city.”
Travaglini called Menino one of the most successful political leaders in the city’s sometimes tumultuous history.
“We don’t have a lot of the problems that the major urban centers do across America. Tom Menino has brought a stability and an integrity in government that is unmatched across the nation in the mayoral ranks,’’ said Travaglini, now a lobbyist.
Travaglini added: “He had to struggle for and fight for everything he got. And he surrounded himself for the longest period with the best and brightest people politically he could find. ... He made every decision fairly, and for over 20 years there wasn’t a hint of corruption for his administration. The bar’s set pretty high.”
Former state senator Joseph Timilty recalled meeting Menino at a Boston Park League game in 1961, and said Menino quickly went to work for Timilty’s city council campaign. Later, Menino worked for him in the state Senate.
“He was everything in the office. He did legislation, he did constituent work, he did speeches, he did everything. You had to be a utility infielder, you had to play every position, and he did it well,” said Timilty. “He always wanted to be in elected office, so eventually he was going to get elected to something.’’
“He’s left his mark. He’s changed Boston politics forever, for the good,” he added. “Now, unless you’re community-oriented, you don’t even have a shot.”
Boston City Councilor John R. Connolly, who declared his candidacy for mayor last month, lauded Menino for his “unquestionable love for our city.’’
Connolly, a West Roxbury resident, said in a prepared statement that he was “thankful to have worked with him, and to have learned from him. ... He has personally touched the lives of tens of thousands of Bostonians, and he ensured a higher quality of life across Boston’s neighborhoods.’’
Connolly said he recalled the Menino who first served the city as councilor from Roslindale, the Boston neighborhood where Connolly grew up.
The man who tried to end Menino’s political career at the polls in the 2009 election, former City Council president Michael F. Flaherty, also applauded Menino.
“For people my age and younger, he’s been mayor our entire adult lives. His devotion to our city has been unprecedented, and I don’t think it would be going too far to call him one of the greatest mayors in Boston’s long history,’’ Flaherty said.
Flaherty also referred to Menino’s health problems, which led to an eight-week hospital stay, a long period of recuperation and his current need to use a cane when he walks, as he did this morning outside his Chesterfield Street home.
“I think his recent health issues likely helped put things in perspective for him, and served to remind him what is truly important in life,’’ Flaherty said. “He’s dedicated most of his life to the city of Boston, second only to his wife and his family.’’
City Councilor Tito Jackson said in a statement that the focus of today is Menino.
“Today is Tom Menino’s day. After serving the City for more than twenty years, the Mayor has earned all the love and gratitude we can give him,’’ Jackson said. “His staff, who helped Mayor Menino change Boston for the better, are in our hearts as well.’’’
This morning at City Hall, Boston Redevelopment Authority Director Peter Meade said, “It’s a triumphant day for the mayor and the city.’’ He noted that a Boston Globe poll published Wednesday showed tjat Menino had the backing of 74 percent of the residents polled.
“A 74 percent favorability rating is what people hope for on Inauguration Day. I don’t know anyone who has ever gone out like that. For those of us, who love him, our hope was that he would do what was best for him and Angela,” Meade said.
Attorney General Martha Coakley added her voice to the chorus of approval for Menino.
“Mayor Menino has led Boston’s resurgence and will leave a lasting legacy as one of the greatest mayors in the city’s rich history,’’ Coakley said in a written statement. “He has been a leading advocate for affordable housing, public education, LGBT rights and the fight against gun violence. I am privileged to call him a friend.’’
Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JOSreports. Andrew Ryan can be reached email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAndrewRyan. John R. Ellement can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.