In 2012, a few days before the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl, I called my friend Tom Menino to ask him if he’d join me in filming a Super Bowl ad asking the American public to support action against illegal guns. Even though it was a last-minute request that required him to rework his schedule, Tom didn’t hesitate — anything for the cause of gun violence.
That was the Tom Menino I knew: Anything for the cause. In 2006, we created Mayors Against Illegal Guns because those in Washington — in both parties — were refusing to do anything about the fact that criminals and the mentally ill could easily buy guns. Our elected representatives were afraid to touch the issue, because of the supposed power of the National Rifle Association. Tom wasn’t afraid of the NRA — or any other special interest group. He had been at the forefront of the fight against crime and had made Boston a dramatically safer place. But not safe enough.
Tom spoke passionately about the victims of gun violence — and he felt, as I did, that a mayor’s number one responsibility was protecting the public. When someone died at the hands of an illegal gun, government had failed. And failure was not a concept that either of us was willing to accept. Thanks to Tom, our coalition against illegal guns now includes more than 1,000 mayors from across the country and both political parties, and we’ve amassed more than 2.5 million supporters.
Tom was tough, but he had a great sense of humor. He was a regular guy — someone who connected easily with people, even though he wasn’t a natural glad-hander. Neither of us were born politicians, but both of us loved the job — and that made for fun conversations, even if it was just about the habit we shared of reporting potholes. (I may have teased him that New York City created a 311 system before Boston did.)
Making sure potholes got fixed was just one small symbol of Tom’s obsession with Boston’s neighborhoods, which he loved. He devoted himself to revitalizing long-neglected areas, and the revival of the South Boston waterfront, now a hub for new jobs and entrepreneurship, helped reposition the city to succeed in the 21st century.
Tom was never afraid to think big, but he always put people — and their safety — first. When we spoke after the Marathon bombing in 2013 — when Boston needed him most — he was as steady and determined as ever.
When he left City Hall, Boston was an immeasurably stronger city than it was when he first became mayor. His legacy will be forever woven into the streets of Boston, and it will also be part of the ongoing work to tackle illegal guns in communities across America. Whenever we finally pass a universal background check bill through Congress — and like Tom, I believe we will do it — Tom will be part of the victory.
Michael R. Bloomberg is the former mayor of New York City.