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Voices: Perspective

Mayoral role model

Whether he runs or retires, Menino has set a worthy example

BY: Eugenie Beal


Toward the end of his first term as mayor of Boston, Tom Menino wrote,  “Great cities are crafted by a series of actions taken years in advance.”

One can surmise that from the beginning he intended a career in Boston politics without ever seeking state or federal office. He was dubbed “the urban mechanic,” a term not always meant as a compliment by those who thought his work tilted toward the prosaic. But it fit Menino.  Consider just some of his achievements in green space and historic preservation:

  • Transforming the Hallet Street and Gardner Street landfills into the multi-acre Pope John Paul II and Millennium parks.
  • Adding or permanently protecting 70 community gardens, mainly in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain.  Every passerby sees a used and tended lot instead of unsightly weeds.
  • Protecting three “urban wilds” in Hyde Park and Mattapan.
  • Landmarking the historic Fowler Clark Farmhouse in Mattapan and 25 other properties throughout the city.
  • Encouraging and assisting Historic Boston Inc. to move its downtown office, where it began, to the Eustis Street Firehouse in Roxbury.  This meant rehabilitation and re-use of the building and oversight of the Eustis Street Burying Ground by a caring abutter. 
These small actions will affect the city’s neighborhoods for years to come.

For nine years Menino represented his home neighborhood of Hyde Park as well as parts of Roslindale and Mattapan on the City Council. He had been elected City Council president six months before Mayor Ray Flynn departed for the Vatican.  He could not have planned it, but Menino’s timing was perfect, as he moved up and took the reins as acting mayor.  He not only moved up, he has stayed up by winning an unprecedented five terms.   

Whether or not he will run again this year is known to few, if any, perhaps not even to himself.  Will there soon be the customary round of low-price breakfast fundraisers and pricier events with attendant publicity?  We‘ll be watching.

A goodly number of potential successors have been mentioned, none rising above the group.  What should we voters be looking for?  I offer two tests: The next mayor should have a long view of municipal problems and a demonstrated interest in one or two, not merely be someone with a law degree and an appetite for banquets across the city.  He or she should be a thinker and, ideally, good at picking top-notch talent, from police commissioner to head of public housing.

The next mayor, whenever that transition occurs, should be comfortable in his or her own skin and neighborhood.  A recent Globe photo of the house where Menino has lived since long before he was elected mayor shows that he’s not a climber, either social or political. And that’s been all to the city’s benefit.  

My touchstone is authenticity.

Eugenie Beal is on the board of the Boston Natural Areas Network, which she helped found in 1977, and is a longtime board member of Friends of the Public Garden. She was the first chairwoman of the Boston Conservation Commission, in the 1970s, and the first director of the Boston Environment Department.

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