Boston Mayor Thomas M Menino

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Thomas M Menino
Mayor of Boston
By Andrew Stevens

26 August 2009: Boston Mayor Thomas M Menino has an enviable electoral track record and is now the city’s longest-serving mayor. Menino is also the city’s first Italian-American mayor and took office in 1993 as acting mayor while city council president following Ray Flynn’s appointment as US ambassador to the Vatican. Hailed by supporters for his blue collar credentials, the mayor appears more comfortable watching the local Red Sox team than working his way through the New England Democratic establishment.

Update November 2013: Marty Walsh elected as mayor in the 5 November mayoral elections.

Born in 1942 in the Hyde Park district of the city, he graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas High School before attending Chamberlayne Community College, where he obtained an associate’s degree in marketing. He later graduated with a BA in community planning from the University
of Massachusetts (Amherst), while sitting on the Boston city council.

For the duration of his time as a city councillor, Boston's mayor was Ray Flynn, a progressive Democrat and pro-life activist who was key to persuading reluctant Catholics to back Clinton in 1992 but who later endorsed George W. Bush over the issue of abortion in the 2000 presidential election. Menino became acting mayor in 1993 when President Clinton appointed Flynn as US ambassador to the Holy See and in the scheduled election of 1994 was successfully elected with 64% of the vote against state representative Jim Brett. Menino was then re-elected unopposed in 1997 and secured a third term in 2001 against city councillor Peggy Davis-Mullen with over 76% of the vote. In 2005 he saw off a challenge from city councillor Maura Hennigan and came back to city hall for the fourth time with 67% of the city’s voters’ backing.

Mayor Menino served as the president of the US Conference of Mayors in 2002/2003. In contrast to his predecessor and the general record of politicians in the heavily Democratic state, Menino shuns the political ladder and for this reason and his affable manner he has enjoyed high levels of popularity.  It could be said that Menino would probably fail in any attempt to secure higher political office and health concerns over the Crohn’s disease he was diagnosed as having in 2004 effectively rule this out. However, that year he did bring the Democratic National Convention to the city.

Menino’s ease with voters and down to earth image is also seen as a contributing factor to his high popularity but as mayor he can also point to a record of delivery. Essentially, his policies have been geared towards achieving liveability through clean streets and lower crime, as well as improving inner city education and providing more affordable housing. In education, the city’s schools were recognised with the first ever Council of Urban Boards of Education award by the National School Boards Association and in 2005 the city was again honoured for its achievements in improving maths, for which the city’s chief educator also received Public Official of the Year. Mayor Menino has also received plaudits for his Leading the Way programmes of urban renewal, which saw derelict land utilised to provide affordable housing.

In February 2006, Menino announced a joint iniative to tackle gun crime with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which will lobby for a joined-up approach at local, state and federal levels as well as the resources, both legislative and financial, to back it up. The mayor also took a stand on the environment, joining forces with other US mayors to demand automotive manufacturers take the production of hybrid fuel vehicles more seriously in order to tackle global warming.

If there is a potential black mark against the Menino administration, it is concerning the faint whiff of scandal over zoning policy. In 2001, the city’s Globe newspaper claimed that Menino personally intervened to have a pharmacy chain’s application to site a new store near to that of a supporter’s blocked. However, Menino does arguably take a more hands-on approach to city planning than many mayors of cities the size of Boston, having its zoning code re-written after seeing a new housing development not to his taste. The city’s planning function is ruled with a rod of iron from city hall, with even small-scale projects called in. While this may appear invasive, Menino’s time in office has seen a real estate boom across the city, which commentators now venture has been firmly crafted in his own image.

Menino’s 16 year administration has however largely avoided the taint of scandal so far and he is said to be careful to attend every function invited to where possible. The mayor enjoys enviably high approval ratings, despite having pledged to only stand for two terms during his original election bid. His subsequent rejoinder while running for a third in 2001 ("two terms, in every century") sums up the quick wit of Boston’s down to earth city chief.

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