Menino’s mark

Today, anyone with a shred of political ambition is staring at something that hasn’t been seen in Boston since 1983: an open mayor’s seat.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino tipped his hand in an interview with Globe editor (and former columnist) Brian McGrory. Menino strongly hinted to McGrory that he was preparing to announce that he won’t be seeking a record sixth term in November. He’s settling for five — a record he set four years ago.

“This is a decision that has torn me apart for a while,” the mayor told McGrory yesterday. “I’ll tell you something, when you love something, you don’t want to walk away. The people in the neighborhoods” — here, McGrory writes, Menino’s voice trailed off — “they know I’ve never walked away from a fight in my ­career.” And with that, he walked away.

Outside his Hyde Park home this morning, Menino joked about a last-minute change of mind, before saying, “When you have something you really loved, you lived 24/7 the last 20 years, it’s tough to say no. But there’s a time and place for everything. I’m excited about it. It’s a sad day, but it’s a day that will always come in your career.” A formal announcement is planned for this afternoon, at Faneuil Hall.

Menino’s power lay both in his limitless work ethic, and in his own knowledge of his political limitations. He worked like hell to put himself into his suite on the fifth floor of City Hall (here’s a long read from Boston magazine on the shrewd politicking that put Menino in the mayor’s office). But once he got the job, he hung on tight. Menino knew enough not to try trading City Hall for the State House, as Kevin White tried. He didn’t make a move to jump to Washington. He stuck with what he knew, and this single-minded focus made him the state’s most powerful, and feared, politician.

The Herald’s columnists flood the zone this morning. Margery Eagan calls Menino a legend and, in his own odd way, a natural. Joe Battenfeld sees the mayor, though slowed by recent illness, going out on top. Howie Carr does exactly what you’d expect him to do. Peter Gelzinis looks ahead to the first wide-open mayoral race in three decades by talking to one of the combatants in the last one, Mel King. King sees an opening for a candidate of color to shift the city’s focus from downtown development, and onto neighborhood residents who find themselves at the short end of gentrification, as he did 30 years ago. Tellingly, King insists that if a candidate held such a platform, they should have been running, regardless of whether or not Menino stayed in the race.

The bigger question for Boston is what the city’s next mayor makes of the job Menino has dominated, and redefined, over the past two decades. Five years ago, Boston magazine argued that Menino’s astounding staying power derived in large part from his ability to make the job seem both small and unappealing: “Sixteen-hour days, seven days a week, endless brain-numbing chats with nattering old biddies in diners and death-smelling senior centers, dour micromanagement of every facet of city government all the way down to the boob and sub-boob levels — all without the consolation of the sort of flashiness, low-level corruption, and big pulpit-punching speechifying that old-time powerhouse mayors indulged in to keep things interesting. Not only has Menino made it next to impossible for someone to take the job from him, but he’s also made the job itself seem so lousy that few in their right mind would want it.” It remains to be seen whether Menino has redefined (and ruined) the mayor’s job for good, or whether his successor rewrites the job description as much as he did.

                                                                                                                                                        –PAUL MCMORROW


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