When Boston Mayor Tom Menino gave his post-hospitalization “Heigh-Ho” and State of the City address at Faneuil Hall this January, you’d have needed a pair of those cartoon-sized shears that he cuts grand-opening ribbons with to slice through the tension and uncertainty. Those who wished that his ailments would permanently sideline Menino clenched their jaws and smiled unconvincingly; longtime supporters watched closely, with care and curiosity, to gauge whether their guy had enough steam for a sixth slog. Even for the world of local politics, which more often than not resembles a scene out of “Mean Girls,” it was an intensely passive-aggressive occasion.
The mayor’s historic announcement of his imminent departure yesterday, also at Faneuil Hall, had another flavor altogether. Everyone seemed truly happy. City workers and Menino’s other diehard fans—the lot of whom hate to see him leave—were comforted in how the 70-year-old will now have more time for his family, the immediate members of which joined him at the podium and were heartily applauded by their patriarch and the packed crowd alike. As for the aspiring mayors on hand—from those perceived to those who have already pulled papers—they grinned like children on their way to an amusement park.
With the floodgates open and political pandemonium in full swing, there will be no end to the rumors, buzz, and speculation about who’s running between now and the application deadline in May. The guessing game began long before last week, and kicked into overdrive yesterday, as the hungry likes of state Rep. Martin Walsh and City Councilors Tito Jackson and Felix G. Arroyo mingled with a Who’s Who of City Hall and Beacon Hill bigwigs. Councilor-At-Large John Connolly, who threw his gala campaign kickoff a week earlier, was also jockeying for pole position, sitting just feet away from the rostrum with his head held high.
In the shadow of those capable contenders, however, may be a well-endowed elephant in the room. Word around the country club is that more than one tycoon has mayoral ambitions, plus enough money and connections to throw a wrench in meritocratic Hub politics-as-usual. Boston Globe columnist Lawrence Harmon floated some heavy prospects in an op-ed last November; namely, former CEO of John Hancock Financial Services David D’Alessandro, and Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish. In anticipating a so-called “Bloomberg candidate,” however, Harmon failed to mention one critical thing—that handing the master keys of any city to a mega-baron is like giving a degenerate drug addict carte blanche at a pharmacy.
It’s anybody’s guess right now as to what kind of leader Boston voters want, or at least think they want at this pivotal moment. But what they certainly don’t need is to cut the middleman out of the already laughable process by which behemoths like Suffolk score government service contracts. Fish, while heroically philanthropic and probably a fine man by many measures, already has a lion’s share of public construction jobs; Suffolk, for example, is currently building the $300 million, 1.2-million-square-foot parking garage and rental car facility at Logan Airport. Nationally, they’ve secured more than 100 federal contracts worth more than $150 million in the past four years —many with the Department of Defense.
Neither over-educated Commonwealth residents, nor our region’s relatively competent media, are above propping a filthy rich egomaniac for office. Just four years ago, Bain Capital alum and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca bought himself a podium on the U.S. Senate debate stage, and was for some reason not laughed out of the state for suggesting that owning a basketball team is a relevant prerequisite for Congress. This is insane.
Our next mayor should be a cautious friend of big business, not the ultimate embodiment of it. Likewise, Menino’s successor should divest municipal monies from bailout banks and evil lenders—an unlikely move for a fat cat like D’Alessandro, who notoriously banked millions while John Hancock’s profits slid in the early 2000s.
This city’s had a sometimes sordid, but more or less reliable and healthy love affair with Menino—the notably blue-collar “urban mechanic”—for two decades. As such, the race to follow him is already numbingly exciting, like being single after ending a long relationship. Of course, that’s all the more reason to think hard before jumping into bed with the first stud who shows up with a bundle full of cash and promises.
Chris Faraone is a former Boston Phoenix reporter and author of “99 Nights with the 99 Percent” and the upcoming “I Killed Breitbart.” He lives in Jamaica Plain.