With election day around the corner, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Boston’s outgoing urban mechanic, is still working under the hood.
And he’s doing more than tinkering.
In the final months of his administration, the mayor is pushing through a Suffolk Downs casino deal and the East Boston-only referendum vote that will set it in motion. This week he unveiled an ambitious housing plan, and promises more major initiatives to come.
To echo the pleas of assorted mayoral hopefuls: Please stop, Mr. Mayor.
Menino’s successor should not be bound by last-minute legacy-sealing and behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing.
Menino may not be ready to give up the spotlight. But he should be ready to give up a heavy action agenda. It’s fine to bask in the accomplishments of a 20-year tenure; it’s time to stop proposing new ones.
Taking final bows will be hard for Menino. For two decades, he was the biggest player on Boston’s political stage and usually the only one. He didn’t like sharing. No big stars were born in his administration, and he discouraged any would-be stars from rising outside his realm. That sets him apart from previous mayors who were unafraid to empower managers who worked for them.
Menino’s reluctance to share the credit and the stage is part of the problem for mayoral hopeful Charlotte Golar Richie. With another mayor as boss, she might have garnered more attention during an eight-year tenure as Boston’s chief of housing and director of neighborhood development. Instead, she’s telling people now what she did then. Today, as she and the other mayoral candidates promote their housing plans on the campaign trail, they also face competition from a lame-duck mayor.
Menino just came out with a plan to build 30,000 homes in Boston. It calls for a whopping $16.5 billion in public and private investment and speeds up the sale of public land to developers. The goal is admirable: more affordable housing. But putting it forward now raises legitimate questions. Some mayoral candidates, including Bill Walczak and Martin J. Walsh, have rightly expressed concerns about the mayor’s effort to fast-track that much public property at discounted prices. Who will get the land? Menino’s usual circle of favorite developers?
Pushing through an East Boston-only referendum vote for a casino at Suffolk Downs is also high on Menino’s final to-do list. His plan is opposed by three mayoral candidates — Walczak, Daniel F. Conley, and Charles C. Yancey. But the Boston City Council, which would have to vote to change that formula, is unlikely to break with Menino’s desires. City Councilors Felix J. Arroyo, John R. Connolly, Rob Consalvo, and Michael P. Ross — also mayoral candidates — all back an Eastie-only vote. Once East Boston presumably endorses the casino, Menino’s goal will switch to winning Suffolk Downs the license it covets from state regulators.
In the days leading up to the Sept. 24 preliminary, it’s worth considering how willing the mayoral candidates are to challenge Menino. He’s a popular mayor, but after 20 years, he had his moment. Menino’s would-be successors should feel free to say what they would do differently. And they should not be stuck with any more deals Menino rams through in the final months of his tenure. He tried to control the search for a new superintendent of schools, but seems to have conceded that the final decision will be up to the next mayor.
Until his term is up, Menino holds all the power that goes with the office. But how he uses it will surely be part of the legacy he is striving to polish.
It’s probably hard for him to imagine anyone else making the decisions he has made for so many years. Frankly, that’s probably true for many Bostonians. But once he leaves office, how he passed the baton will be just as important as how he wielded it over the years.
Menino should make sure the city engine is running smoothly. Now is not the time to gun it.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.