Tom Menino entered Faneuil Hall a little after 4 p.m. today to a standing ovation and "My Way."
"I never dreamed I would end up here, mayor of Boston during its best years," he told the packed auditorium, saying that in jobs, graduation rates, construction, credit ratings, population and crime, the city is at its best numbers in decades.
"Boston's neighborhoods are thriving as they never have," he said. "And most important to me, we are more open and accepting city."
Menino said that physically, he feels better than he has in a long time, although he joked he should be at a physical-therapy appointment rather than giving a speech.
"I'm back to a mayor's schedule, but not a Menino schedule," he said. "And I miss that." He fought back tears as he finally, publicly said that he would not run this fall, that he would give up the job he loves, even though "I can run, and I can win. And I can lead. But not in the neighborhoods, all the time, as I like."
Menino said he first started thinking about not running for a sixth term several months ago; vowed he has "no intention of letting up just yet" and is merely entering a new chapter in his life on the public scene. However, he said he would not endorse a successor, asking only that Bostonians "choose someone who loves this city as much as I do."
He cited the well known statistic about how he's met roughly half the entire city's population and answered the question of how he could do that with a litany of accomplishments helping individual neighborhoods grow.
"All you do is start in Roslindale and rebuild its main streets with neighbors. You walk with the proud residents of Bowdoin/Geneva." He also pointed to everything from a new supermarket in Grove Hall to a landfill in West Roxbury turned into a park, "dazzling new libraries" in Mattapan and Brighton, summer job programs and the start of the Fernandes project in Dudley Square.
He added, "you reach out to the homeless on cold winter nights and say they count also."
"I just did what I loved, then it wasn't too hard," he said of shaking hundreds of thousands of hands.
"Boston is the greatest city on earth," he added. Boston "gets gets better every day because of all of you. And as long as you work together, that will never change."