Menino pens a new chapter with book

In his new book, former mayor Thomas M. Menino offers a paean to pouring pavement. "In the grand scheme of things, perhaps filling a pothole doesn't matter," he writes. "But to the citizen who nearly lost a tire in that pothole, it says, 'You matter.' "

The book, "Mayor for a New America," is an opportunity for Menino, who at 71 is battling cancer, to burnish his legacy and his guiding philosophy that "the human factor" is everything in politics. Like the man himself, the 250-page memoir is sentimental, earnest, and occasionally funny.

While exploring his efforts to improve schools and hold down crime, he drops some revealing, if not scandalous, nuggets about his two decades in power.


The former mayor discloses that he once took speaking lessons, but when an acting coach suggested he try wearing sneakers during a speech, he decided, "I can't take it anymore," and quit.

He defends his total control over development projects, declaring, "I never relaxed my grip."

And he writes that, after he won a record fifth term in 2009, he kept his political machine running in high gear in the hope that executives would whisper to themselves, "The mayor of Boston is an elected emperor. He can do whatever the hell he wants."

The book, written with Jack Beatty — the biographer of another legendary Boston mayor, James Michael Curley — is due out Oct. 14.

It will inevitably shine a new spotlight on Menino, who is now codirector of an urban policy institute at Boston University. Next month, he is scheduled to embark on a book tour with 11 stops in the Boston area and one stop each in New York and Washington.

The publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is billing the memoir as a "behind-the-scenes look" at "one of the most popular politicians in modern history." The jacket includes blurbs by former president Clinton and Senator Elizabeth Warren.


Jim Milliot — editorial director of Publisher's Weekly, which tracks the publishing business — said Menino's story "may have regional appeal," but added, "I kind of doubt it will get much pickup outside of New England."

The book sketches Menino's rise from Hyde Park, on the fringes of the city, where he struggled in school, but could hit a baseball and was tough on the basketball court. "That won me some respect," he writes.

Delving into his infamous battles with the English language, he writes that, as a boy, he dreaded being called on in class. "My teeth and lips would not cooperate," he writes. "I talked out of the side of my mouth, mumbling decades before I was called 'Mumbles.' "

The book's most powerful scenes revolve around the Boston Marathon bombings, when Menino emerged from the hospital to help revive the spirits of the wounded city.

Although he did not express concern at the time, he writes that he disagreed with Governor Deval Patrick's request that residents "shelter in place" during the manhunt for the bombers.

"Shelter in place was an overreaction," Menino writes, pointing out that a homeowner in Watertown found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev soon after the governor called off the "shelter in place" plan.

With great pride, he revels in the praise he received from Governing Magazine, cherishes his landslide reelection victories, and takes credit for helping to elect Patrick in 2006 and Warren in 2012.


When Hillary Clinton was struggling in the 2008 presidential race, he says, he sent 100 of his "campaign pros" to New Hampshire, and "my people delivered for Hillary Clinton," and "put Hillary over the top" in the Democratic primary.

State lawmakers in Massachusetts drew a lesson from those victories, he writes: " 'Team Menino' could make you or break you."

He insists that the image of him as a thin-skinned titan was a caricature, but says it also helped him maintain power in his fifth and final term, when some were ready to dismiss him as a lame duck. "Fear is power," Menino writes. "I owed it to my city to keep fear alive."

But he was not, he said, driven by vengeance. Instead, he said, he relished his role as the "urban mechanic," saying it allowed him to accomplish larger goals, from hosting the 2004 Democratic National Convention to rebuilding the South Boston waterfront.

"Do the small stuff — fix potholes, clean up parks, plow the streets quickly after snowstorms — to win the public's trust that you'll deliver on the big stuff," he writes.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@