In the week since Tom Menino passed away, much has been said about his stature as one of Boston’s great mayors.
We’ll add that he would have been one of its great ex-mayors, too.
The most remarkable thing about Menino was his unfeigned guy-from-the-old-neighborhood localism. Unlike virtually any pol you care to name, he truly didn’t care about higher office or a big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He loved and knew Boston obsessively, and he would have kept on doing it.
Part of this is selfish. The Gazette was slated to interview him about his recent book the week he ended cancer treatments. That’s a conversation we surely wish we had. But that’s just one of many insights that are now lost. Word is he was working on a video series about neighborhood restaurants, a subject on which he was expert. Even small stuff like that would have been intriguing, not to mention helpful to local businesses.
Menino’s legacy here is deep, from the Main Streets groups that sustain local economies, to the community centers he and wife Angela worked to build, to his steadfast championing of LGBT rights. He’s also a model of nose-to-the-grindstone leadership for his many local protégés, such as state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez and Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services rep Jullieanne Doherty.
At the same time, JP had an unvarnished view of the Menino years. JPers were among the first to protest as his administration became secretive, back-room-ish, outdated. His totally non-transparent plans to, say, shutter local libraries and schools did not go over well here. He left the BRA a disturbing mess.
But most of us remained keenly aware of how much he loved and helped the neighborhood out of a genuine sympathy with its people. And even in his miscues, one could see he was doing what he thought was best for the city. That was his North Star: Do you really care about Boston? It’s a deceptively simple guiding principle.
One thing we’ll always remember about interviewing Menino: He would ask as many questions as he answered. In part, that was a classic political tactic to take control of an interview. But mostly, he really was curious about the neighborhood and knew he could learn a lot from a local reporter.
He cared about the ear-to-the-ground details. He would have kept caring, and gotten involved in fresh, less politicized ways.
We miss the mayor we had, and the ex-mayor we might have had.