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Mayor Menino

As a Brookline resident I don't get to vote in Boston municipal elections, but since we're surrounded by Boston on three sides I tend to try to stay plugged into Boston's politics as much as I can. (Also, six days a week I find myself in Boston.)

Over the years, I've come to be impressed by Mayor Thomas Menino (although I will note that I do have friends who disagree with me). In my humble view, Menino presents himself as a caretaker mayor who wants to make sure that life is made as easy as possible for the residents of his city. He's not someone who has a grand political vision and wants to push it through; his vision for the city is to make it a place of simple livability.

It seems to be a common impression, and now I know why. It's because that really is how Menino does his job. And here are two pieces of proof.

Firstly, there's this column from today's Boston Globe: Mayor Menino, at your service by Yvonne Abraham. I highly recommend that people interested in local politics read the whole article.

(Aside: speaking as a writer and editor, I find Abraham's article a delight to read.)

Apparently, Menino holds regular receptions for new homeowners, during which he shows genuine interest in his citizens' lives and looks for ways to help them out. Abraham presents one specific case in which Menino connected a new homeowner who just lost his job with a city housing expert working to stop foreclosures. In another case, Menino actually knew one homeowner's father, a Boston cop, and details about her new neighborhood.

(Another aside: columns like these present most eloquently the reason why we need newspapers to stay in business.)

Menino may not be a great orator, Abraham points out, but he clearly cares about your problems.

Which leads me to the second thing.

Some of the members of our synagogue, Kadimah-Toras Moshe, have been dealing with the issue of Boston College's expansion plans into their neighborhood. Originally, a public hearing and presentation to the Zoning Commission had been scheduled for the evening of April 8, which this year is the night of the first Passover seder. Members of the community wrote to Mayor Menino and other politicians, pointing out this conflict and imploring them to take action. This resulted in a letter sent yesterday from Menino to Robert Fondren, the chairman of the Zoning Commission, in which Menino asks him to postpone the meeting to a later date. And that led to an announcement today that the hearing will in fact be postponed.

I grew up in New York City, and I understand that the mayor of New York has a much bigger job to do than the mayor of almost any other city in the United States. But I never got the feeling that any of New York's mayors had the same personal connection with his city's residents as does Mayor Menino of Boston.

Comments

I think that Ed Koch did, sometimes. He was very much one of us. The others? I like Bloomberg but he's from the Planet of the Technocrats, Dinkins was always out of touch, and Rudy seemed to expect you to do as he said because he said it.
he talks like he has marbles in his mouth.
i feel like menino and barney frank were separated at birth when i hear them talk. it is painful to listen to them, but i tend to like the views of both.
I have strong feelings about this, both pro- and con, but they balance out to Con.

For pro, there is no doubt Menino has local focus and "means well," and that's awesome -- he's not trying to climb, has no grand political ambitions that focus his attention away from the city of Boston, and his loyalty toward the city of Boston and the people who love it is palpable. He shows up to important events, makes sure his office is up on what's going on and supporting local initiatives, shakes the hands of even the little guy, and asks for little in return from the average Joe. He really likes helping people, and that's too rare. His is a one-at-a-time management style, and those who are the "ones" are treated exceptionally well.

That said: He can't see the forest for the trees, and more importantly, is a little corrupt. The serious con: Menino has financed both his dealing as mayor, as well as his personal transactions, by giving preferential treatment to certain contractors and businesses that have either (a) claim to his personal affinity [including but not limited to, contractors related to Menino and his friends] or (b) an ability to favorably impact Menino's personal finances (view his lifestyle and publicly recorded expenditures in relation to his "official" income). Menino has used his charisma and gradually accumulated political clout to silence opponents (from rivals for the Mayor's Seat to federal investigators questioning the Big Dig) and place himself in financially favorable straits. I think one clear example was described well in this non-politically-affiliated blog: http://electkevin.blogspot.com/2009/01/tom-meninos-ponzi-scheme.html

For those who doubt the questionable financial dealings (all of which would require a lot more documentation than I can encapsulate in this comment, so I don't blame any skeptics but at the same time would encourage them to research these dealings extensively), I argue that Menino is guilty of certain critical ineptitudes -- either difficulty understanding economic realities (see the budget shortfalls and serious population exodus statistically attributable to the city's economic climate from 2004 to present) or a willful neglect of them to serve his own personal ends. Based on my readings and experience, I believe him to be far too ingratiated into a culture of patronage and favoritism that has put us at a disadvantage when one considers demographic research (i.e., whether people want to stay in the Boston that Menino has made) and federal funding (what little we are given as compared to the past is given with stated reluctance, in light of the city's mismanagement).
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