Mayor Thomas Menino announced March 28 that he will not run for reelection this year after a record 20 years in office.
Menino’s move has left local leaders and residents reflecting on his legacy.
“I doubt there’s been a mayor in the whole country who’s done more to advance a neighborhood development agenda than Tom Menino has in the past 20 years,” said Richard Thal, executive director of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation.
Thal recalled Menino’s “mantra” of, “‘This is about people, after all,” and praised him for putting City money into affordable housing development and small business support. Thal said Menino administration officials are “national leaders” in such public health issues as racial disparities in care and violence prevention.
“He’s laid the foundation for the future of this city,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez. “The city was in a completely different place back in the early ’90s. He turned the city around.”
Sánchez pointed to such projects as the massive redevelopment of Jackson Square on the JP/Roxbury border that once dismissed as a “pipe dream.”
“This is like a meteor hit Boston politics,” said City Councilor and JP resident Felix Arroyo. “I believe our city’s in a better place than we were 20 years ago. He deserves tremendous credit.”
“Tom Menino will go down as one of the greatest mayors in Boston’s history,” said local City Councilor and JP resident Matt O’Malley. He said Boston is a “stronger, better, more welcoming” city than ever before thanks to Menino, “and he he leaves enormous shoes to fill.”
Benjamin Day, the chair of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC), expressed a mixed view of Menino’s legacy in an email to the Gazette. Day has sometimes been a Menino critic, once volunteering for mayoral challenger Sam Yoon, and now leading the JPNC in a lawsuit against Menino’s Zoning Board of Appeals over a controversial JP real estate project.
Menino has given him “moments of true awe and inspiration,” as well as concerns about government transparency, Day said. “JP has experienced both sides of Menino’s tenure, and I’m looking forward to the first truly competitive mayoral election of my lifetime,” he said.
On the positive side, Day noted Menino’s recent vetoing of Boston City Council redistricting plans that did not expand minority voting representing and his staunch support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. “Mayor Menino almost single-handedly turned the St. Patrick’s Day parade into annual litmus test for solidarity with the LGBT community and for progressives in general,” Day said, referring to Menino’s refusal to join in the controversial South Boston event due to its exclusion of LGBT rights marchers.
Rebecca Haag, president and CEO of the JP-based AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, praised Menino’s pioneering efforts to address the AIDS/HIV epidemic in the 1980s, including with such politically controversial measures as needle exchange programs.
“From the start of his political career, Mayor Menino has pushed for services for people living with HIV and AIDS and he has been an outspoken advocate on their behalf,” Haag said in a press release. “From his first term in office as a district city councilor from Hyde Park, he approached the issue of how to deal with AIDS with an open mind, unlike so many other politicians from that time.”
She recalled that in 2001, Menino raised money to pay for liver transplant surgery for an AIDS Action Committee employee who had been denied coverage from her health insurer due to her HIV-positive status.
Larry DiCara, a JP resident and former Boston City Council president who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1983, praised Menino for improving virtually every facet of city life.
“As the perspective of a guy who’s lived in Jamaica Plain for 24 years now, crime is down, civic life—community life, restaurants and people walking around—is up. City government runs more efficiently than it was,” DiCara said. “Race relations I think are far better than they were a generation ago.”
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz noted a recent poll that showed that more than half of Boston residents have met the mayor personally, as well as his high approval rating, Chang-Díaz said, “That sets an extremely high bar for the accessibility of a big-city mayor.” She added that Menino loves the city and “I’m really glad to hear that love is reciprocated” in the recent outpouring of fond memories about the mayor.
JP resident Maura Hennigan, a former city councilor and now clerk of Suffolk County criminal courts, once ran against Menino. But when they served together on City Council, she recalled, they worked on such projects as building JP’s police station and rehabbing Jamaica Pond Park.
“We agreed and disagreed on a number of issues, but he gave his service. My hat’s off to him,” said Hennigan. “He’s done a lot for the city and a lot for the people of Jamaica Plain.”
“He’s probably the greatest mayor in the history of the city,” said state Rep. Russell Holmes. “I can’t think of a greater mayor when you think of the entire country.”
City Councilor Tito Jackson released a written statement saying, “After serving the City for more than 20 years, the mayor has earned all the love and gratitude we can give him. His staff, who helped Mayor Menino change Boston for the better, are in our hearts as well.”
City Councilor Mike Ross called Menino “the political equivalent of [Boston sports legends] Ted Williams, Larry Bird and Bill Russell rolled into one.”
“Mission Hill and Jamaica Plain achieved a renaissance under the mayor,” said Ross. “He managed to take care of the neighborhoods while downtown thrived.”
Updated version: This version has been updated with comment from City Councilor Matt O’Malley.