The years in review: Menino's legacy

Tom Menino in Roslindale

The news that Tom Menino wouldn't run for mayor again not only changed the city's political dynamics but got pundits to pondering his legacy after 20 years in office. Here''s a roundup of Menino-legacy roundups, from Jamaica Plain to New York to Toronto:

WBUR: Mayor Menino's Legacy And The City Marty Walsh Will Inherit:

He's famous for being the urban mechanic, but he really presided over a pretty transformational period in the city's history.

The Atlantic Cities: Boston's Outgoing Mayor Spent 20 Years Putting His Name on Everything:

There Menino is again, on another set of trash bins on Congress Street, across from Faneuil Hall. "HEY KEEP IT CLEAN," these receptacles say. And it appears as if the ALL-CAPS command is coming straight from Menino himself in his raspy Boston accent.

The Globe has an entire section on Menino's legacy.

WGBH: After 20 years, Assessing Tom Menino's Legacy:

At the start of the Menino mayoral reign, most college freshmen today were not yet born; Boston's skyline was not as full as it is today, and the Seaport District was an underused waterfront -- not a thriving commercial neighborhood. Development has been the hallmark of Menino's five terms in office. New skyscrapers, public housing, expanded bike paths, environmentally friendly building codes, and greener mass transit have all been a part of the mayor's development agenda.

Boston Magazine: A Mayor in Full:

Farewell to the petty thin-skinned ruthless S.O.B.—who just may be the best mayor we've ever had.

Harvard Political Review: Tom Menino's Legacy and Boston's Future:

When Tom Menino completes his fifth and final term as mayor of Boston in January, he can rightfully take pride in the resurgence and promising future of Massachusetts' City Upon a Hill. As the longest-serving mayor in Boston's 383-year history, Menino has led Boston's successful effort to reinvent itself during his 20-year tenure with passionate focus across a wide range of issues. As the detail-oriented "Urban Mechanic," Menino's most laudable accomplishments include efforts to reduce crime, repair infrastructure, foster diversity, and promote economic growth.

Jamaica Plain Gazette: JP reflects on Menino's legacy.

East Boston Times-Free Press: Mayor Menino's Final Backyard BBQ A Testament to His True Legacy.

WCVB: Mayor Menino's Exit Interview.

Boston Business Journal: He built this city (sort of):

How Tom Menino intentionally — and in some cases unintentionally — molded a world-class metropolis to his liking.

New York Times: In Boston, Mayor Builds a Legacy With Construction Cranes.

Public Sector Inc.: Menino goes out on top: a Public Sector Inc. Q&A with Sam Tyler of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau

Socialist Worker: A new era for Boston?

City Journal: Just Tommy from Hyde Park:

Boston's Thomas Menino shows how to be a mayor for life.

Toronto Globe and Mail: Want solutions to Rob Ford malaise? Learn from south of the border:

Toronto has the civic energy, talent, and public consensus around good government to compete with places like New York and Boston in delivering innovative, effective public services. The missing ingredient is political leadership.

Comcast Sportsnet: Mayor Menino's guide to winning over sports fans:

It's not enough to support Boston's teams from the couch and podium. You must attend these games and show the constichinuts that you are one of them. You must stand among the crowd at Sullivan Stadium and proclaim: "That's another Patriots fifth down!" You must sing "Sweet Madeline" with the Fenway faithful. You must dance along with "Tino" when the Celtics are winning big. And with Kelvin Gannet and "The Truce" back in town for one more season, you know that many big wins are in the Celtics immediate future.



Free tagging: 


Let's see...

Rose to power in a city based in a strong, resilient regional economy based on industries which benefited from changes in the global economy (medical, educational, medical, high tech, defense) and then diddled around doing little of real value while the regional economy kept raising the fortunes of Boston.

He leaves:

1) With a school system which still fails to do much to meet the needs of the lower class families who use it or the middle class families who pay for it, but don't use it. In spite of repeated claiming that it was a high priority for him.

2) Having done nothing to create address the issue of affordable housing in the city through innovative leadership to rebuild communities which needed help. Barros did more with the Dudley St. initiative than Menino ever did in 20 years in power.

3) Having used his power to get a white elephant convention center built which is inessential to the local economy, but now apparently needs expansion in order to compete for business.

4) Put his name on @ 10,000 signs across the city ensuring that the tax payers need to either spend $100k to replace them all or leave them be so we can all glory in his name.

5) a pension system which is underfunded by $18k per household and even with that, the major public sector unions are in line for further contract boosts due to his failure to resolve any of these issues.

6) with a crime rate which is lower, along with the region, than in the 80s, but with the urban core neighborhoods still plagued by youth violence.

In short, he took credit for most of the stuff which has nothing to do with his decisions in office but shunted away blame for all the things which he didn't do as mayor, in spite of total control of all aspects of the city government. He was a good mayor for two terms and then stuck around for years too many.


Hard to Miss

I bet you could find 100 of them in 20 minutes on google streetview. Here is one. (Zoom in on the blue oval sign. It's at the bottom and easy to read.)

I generally like Menino but the signs do tick me off. There should be a law prohibiting the names of any current politician on any city object with the exception of the sign outside their office.


Menino's name is everywhere

Menino and his staff made sure that his name was everywhere. Its hard to walk 10 minutes in this city without see Menino's name on something. Look at the windows at the Haymarket Building. There have been signs there for years announcing the Future Home of the Boston Public Market, and Mr. Menino has his name in every other window. Any sign of the Boston Public Market???? Nope, just another idea that he threw out there with little follow through.

The problem is that Mr.Menino and his staff were quite active in making sure that his name was on display for all sorts of things, but were weak at making many of those things happen. There is a long list of things that Mr. Menino proposed with a press conference and sign that have never materialized. I happen to run some events in town which the city provides some in-kind support. We need to make sure that Mr. Menino has his name on all of our material (brochures, handouts, banners,etc.) or we get a call from the mayor's staff. Are they actually providing anything other than the space or an endorsement - no sirree. But the mayor has to get his name on everything.

Mr. Menino deserves credit for running the city without getting indicted, and for doing some good things along the way. Keep in mind that some of the criminal things were swept under the rug - anyone remember all the missing emails that his administration "lost"? The bar is awfully low if we're content with an administration not being indicted. IMHO, he stayed in office too long and lost focus on what he wanted to accomplish. As others have stated, the big problems are still there - quality of the schools, lack of affordable housing, violent crime by urban youths - as on-going problems that need continuous attention by any city government. By having some success in his early terms, Mr. Menino wandered away from these issues and started becoming the "master urban planner", only to have these problems emerge again.


Legacy: Hire media hacks and avoid all scandal

I've never believed Mayor Menino was smart enough to concoct this strategy, it was most likely Mike "Emails" Kineavy or one of the others who pulled the strings behind the curtain, but Menino's legacy and example to all future Mayors will be to hire Boston media types to be $100,000+ "spokepersons" in every department from the Mayor's Office, to BPD, to Parks and Recreation and everywhere in between.

With print media dying and the traditional electronic media salaries a shadow of their former selves, the six figure salaries reserved for those "leaving" a Boston media job are a sure way to prevent any type of serious investigative reporting. Why burn the bridge? We have a Channel 4 I-Team, News 5 Investigates, Fox Undercover, Hank Investigates, Globe Spotlight Team and Joe Battenfeld at the Herald. Other than Battenfeld and the Herald's columnist Howie Carr, has there been anything but fawning, even doting, coverage of the Mayor? Plenty of stories on bridal shops suddenly closing, leaving brides stranded, nail salons cited for unsanitary conditions, Doctor's prescribing too many painkillers, pension fraud, but nary a story about Menino's City Hall.

Even when a serious question is asked, Menino is allowed to turn it into an unfunny joke, or even grabs the reporter's microphone to "turn the tables," drawing guffaws from the hopeful media, most likely not wanting to offend before the next City PR job is offered. I believe even Congress has a one year ban on ex-members working as lobbyists. Such a ban should be placed on reporters going to work as government spokespersons. As I've said before, Menino's spokesperson hiring policy provided better insulation than Owens-Corning. Of course there was no scandal in twenty years, reporters have families to feed! Truly shameless behavior by the Boston media but who can blame them as the golden carrot dangled before them?


I think you are glossing over reporting

Specifically, the Herald once ran a 2 day piece noting Menino's connection to Vinny Marino (they have adjoining burial plots, for Christ's sake) and Marino's connection with the mob, including a chance encounter with some made man (the article was a while ago, and memories get hazy over time) and an undercover FBI guy.

I remember this article for this reason. The Herald owned Community Newspapers, of which the Parkway Transcript is a title. The Transcript sent a reporter to a meeting where Marino pitched to the community his plan to replace his Rozzie restaurant/bar with a commercial/residential building. Everyone was in favor, and pointed out how rowdy the bar was. Marino took offense, which was reported. Marino called the reporter and made some vailed threats. In response, the reporter noted the threats the following week, and the Herald embarrassed Menino.

At the end of the day, Menino was both thin skinned and Teflon. He wasn't corrupt, but rather being Boston (as evidenced by the signed) was the thing.

Stay a moment, there...

Putting aside the fact that the state paid for the vast majority of the convention center, how is it a white elephant? The thing is booked out for years to come.
Also, if it weren't for the convention center and especially Massport (Seaport hotel with office buildings, WTC, all the other N.Ave developments between E. Service Road and the BMIP that are on Massport land) priming the pump and taking away the risk for the private developers, the South Boston Waterfront (a.k.a., Seaport - remember the naming debate? I do.) would be the same underutilized windswept 1,000 acres that it was in 1997. Certainly there must be more and better things to build down there, but no one should underestimate the role that the public investments played in enabling the amazing amount of development that has occurred in the last 15 years.

Is it though?

Sure, it's pretty easy to make the budget look nice when you are soaking every visitor to the city for car rental and hotel fees. Coming for a Sox game, Head of the Charles, Marathon, college graduation, Symphony, First Night? Thanks for paying money to the Convention Center! And wait, it probably needs a $1B expansion to 'compete' with other major conventions which, news flash, will probably stay in Las Vegas or NYC or Chicago, because those are major business centers which people want to visit.

"The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority on Wednesday filed legislation for a massive expansion of its South Boston exhibit hall, saying the $1 billion project is necessary to make Boston a top US destination for meetings and trade shows.

If approved, the project would increase the meeting and exhibit space at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center by 60 percent. The existing building, which opened in 2004, is already the largest of its kind in New England.

The authority’s executive director, James Rooney, said expanding the center itself could be funded without any new taxes or fees. But he said public subsidies will certainly be needed for a separate project the authority is pursuing — an adjacent hotel complex with up to 1,500 rooms."

So, ok maybe this isn't a Menino issue, but when you can skin money off the top of all tourism to the city it's probably pretty easy to claim something is a sound investment.

Look at the development around Fenway Park - you think something like that couldn't have happened in the Seaport? The Convention Center was well designed to make sure that the region needs to keep feeding money into the MA Convention business as if it was a critical leg of the economy. It's crony capitalism garbage.

And he has set Marty Walsh up to fail

Walsh inherits a city that has a $50 million projected deficit, revenues going up less than 3% a year and costs going up over 4% a year. About 3/4 of the expenses go to public education, public safety, health care and fixed costs - as they take up a larger and larger piece of the pie they rapidly force out the money for everything else. We hit a bump like another recession that freezes real estate development and/or cuts state aid and there will be real pain.

Striped pols

Haar, I went to a Ford Hall Forum about Menino's legacy during the race to replace him. The fairly smart folk on stage went on about development and schools and such. The inimitable Larry DiCara nailed it though at the end when asked directly. He said, "No one went to jail."

Of course, Councilor Turner and Sen. Wilkerson did go to prison, but they were not Menino lackeys, hires, appointees or such. DiCara contrasted the relatively virtuous Menino administration with those of previous mayors. He figures that's what Da Mare will be remembered for first of all. Makes sense to me.

He did a lot of good

Basic city services get done. Trash pickup,street cleaning, recycling was started and expanded, snow removal, park maintenance, all things that went to hell during Kevin White's last term, got better in some aspects under Ray Flynn, and now are consistently done well. The snow removal in Boston is much better than it is in Newton, where I travel on a daily basis. The inspection program for all rental buildings that was started this year is much needed, and I fault him for waiting until there were two deaths and a brain injury due to fires in Allston this year before he took action, but still. His predecessors did nothing. Kevin White's ISD commissioner went to jail.

There are two new branch libraries, in Allston and East Boston.

Could he have done more about the schools? Yes, but now some schools have waiting lists. That is a remarkable change.

He supported a lot of new development along Blue Hill Avenue. It looks much better than when he took office. Moving the BPD, and soon the school department, to Roxbury were smart decisions.

The city has an excellent bond rating. A $50 million deficit is small in a budget of $2.6 billion.

Menino "good" on snow removal? Expect indictments.

Anon 11:24 pm, did you say Menino was good on snow removal? Hello? Hello? Perhaps you have forgotten Charlestown, Blizzard of 2013? If a Republican is elected President in 2016, and the statute of limitations hasn't expired, expect indictments of high level Mayoral staff on the sudden removal of the longtime Charlestown snow removal contractor whose "donation" to the Menino campaign (Menino would later announce he wasn't even running) was late. The longtime contractor, who had done a great job, was replaced by one who donated heavily and on-time but was unable to handle all of his other bountiful assignments and made a mess of things in Charlestown while Menino's crowd basically told the compliant press, "nothing to see here." If for no other reason, vote Republican in 2016. Most of the New York / New Jersey Italian rubbish contractors and their city enablers are doing life. Time for this crowd to face the RICO statute also.

Schools, Violence, Crime

I can and had criticized Menino for many polices. I dislike his transportation polices or his inactivity of it (imagine if he was active advocate - would we see half the problems we see today?). I dislike his policies on construction (that article show how new towers have been going shorter and shorter struck a chord hard). I dislike his business polices including its affect on nightlife (I can't completely go against him, I don't mind Boston not being 24-hr - I don't need or want NYC or Miami, but I don't need or want not his tendency to enough even allow a store to open an hour later either).

I also have to make a special mention of Menino's bluster after a man's home that got blown up by that gas line. All the huff and puff saying how he will help him and not forget. It never arrived. The irony of his words too apparent. But at least I didn't forget. Hey Adam, has there been any better development since?

But I can't just hand-wave dismiss Boston's economic growth. I can see the argument he failed to play a role in the growth. But I also recognize he could have damn well kept it from growing either. That alone means I have to give him some credit.

And unlike the above, I will not dismiss him on schools. If nothing else than what city have done better. And I mean on a level to actually break this criticism. Some here may be pleased if he stopped busing or some other action. If the criticism is on something specific like busing, I can agree on that. But say quality of school is not, because what city have done better?

Same goes for violence, especially when it has been noted that Boston's dangerous areas apparently would be "laughed at" by it equivalent dangerous areas of other cities. People seem to be dismissing Menino as the decline was nationwide, but I still have to note Boston's manage to decline that its violence is much less in both raw numbers and proportionally to Boston's size. I have to credit him on some level regardless of his direct role.