Author Jack Beatty, who wrote a vivid biography of the legendary Mayor James Michael Curley (“The Rascal King”), has signed on to help departing Mayor Thomas Menino pen the story of his 20-year stewardship of Boston. In key ways, this is the anti-Curley story: Curley was corrupt, Menino isn’t; Curley was disloyal, Menino isn’t; Curley was an orator, Menino isn’t; Curley was Boston Irish, Menino isn’t.
Alas, Curley was also exciting, and Menino is, well, less so.
The challenge for Menino and Beatty will be to find a unifying theme for the five-term administration — one capable of holding readers’ interest for hundreds of pages. The mayor, after all, is a notorious incrementalist. Even a talented author like Beatty may have some difficulty bringing the Menino era to literary life, especially after the author’s long immersion in Curley’s political hijinks and grand gestures.
But there ought to be a way to convey Menino’s gift of staying power. There are some sweeping chapters to be written, such as the transformation of the run-down South Boston waterfront and Menino’s rise from his sickbed to rally the city after the Boston Marathon bombings. But many of Menino’s accomplishments have emerged slowly and without much fanfare. City neighborhoods that were once poor, dispirited, and dangerous are now quite stable.
Is there a secret to Menino’s success? If so, it’s rooted in the mayor’s unique combination of authenticity and open-mindedness. Plumbing the roots of Menino’s persona would be a useful exercise for younger generations of politicians, and a good reason to look forward to Menino and Beatty’s collaboration. “The Rascal King”? Nah. Get ready for “The Incremental King.”