Legend has it that when Sarah Roosevelt died, a sturdy tree on her property in Hyde Park fell to the ground on the same day for no good reason. It was a message that the world had changed.
I think the same thought should be in the minds of all Bostonians upon the death of Mayor Thomas Menino.
Tom was underestimated his entire political life but brought Boston to great levels of success and prestige. History will be kind to Tom Menino.
Tom was able to transform himself from a District City Councilor, dealing with the minutia of city government to a city-wide, and a national leader. For example, he took his experience in reinventing Roslindale Village and expanded Main Streets programs not only across the city, but also across the nation.
He took his knowledge of the city budget process which he mastered while chairing the city council ways and means committee and put it to good use to place city government on sound financial footing. Boston now has the highest bond rating of any major American city. The built environment is very different today as a result of Tom’s leadership. As the first post-Central Artery mayor, he ensured that there is now easy access to the sea from downtown; the Seaport is booming.
Furthermore, Boston grew. After decades of stagnation which followed decades of precipitous population loss, he oversaw unanticipated growth, including in neighborhoods where few had previously lived. These were different kinds of Bostonians. Today, we have 35,000 more people and 35,000 fewer registered cars than before the recession less than a decade ago. All of this happened on Tom’s watch.
Just as importantly, perhaps some of his greatest achievements were those which required political courage. As Boston’s first Italian mayor, an event which was anticipated with grave uncertainty by Frank Skeffington in the Last Hurrah, Tom needed to walk a political tightrope, given Boston’s high energy Irish political culture.
Soon after he was elected, he made the decision that he would not march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade unless Gay and Lesbian citizens good do likewise. Almost 20 years later, no elected officials, but for a few who represent South Boston, are marching in that parade. Across the country other mayors have followed suit.
Just as in his battle for gun control, he was not afraid of any backlash from entrenched political interests. This is also his legacy.
Lawrence S. DiCara is former President of the Boston City Council and is a Partner at Nixon Peabody.