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Menino helped move Boston past old fault lines of race and religion

March 29, 2013 02:48 PM

When he came to office in 1993 Thomas Menino, may have understood better than many that Boston had to change. He was, after all, a member of an ethnic minority and Boston’s first Italian-American mayor. He understood that the old battles across the fault lines of Yankee and Irish, town and gown, black and white, native and immigrant, Catholic and Protestant, Southie and Roxbury, public and parochial (and now charter), gay and straight, downtown and neighborhood were making Boston increasingly dysfunctional. Lots of people were working on building bridges across those divides; but it made a major difference to have a mayor who consistently and effectively talked about and worked on bringing this city together.

From public safety coalitions to educational reform initiatives, from rebuilding streets decimated by old riots to fostering a new innovation district, there’s been a consistent focus on making Boston a place of welcome and opportunity for everyone. Has he done it flawlessly? No way. Thomas Menino is very human, not divine. But he has left his successor a great legacy of partnerships that can help this city tackle its educational, employment, housing, climate, and other challenges.

I’ll never forget sitting in the mayor’s office and asking him about an upcoming election. On the streets and in the media people were bemoaning and wringing their hands over the prospect of old racial and gender animosities being stirred up once again. The mayor, six months in advance, dismissed the conventional wisdom and correctly called the winner of the election. He said, “It doesn’t matter what people say. Boston has changed.” This city has changed and this city is poised for even greater and better change. And when that change comes it will, in no small measure, reflect the leadership of a mayor named Tom Menino.

The Rev. Ray A. Hammond is pastor of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain.

Menino watched over the city's finances

March 29, 2013 09:49 AM

The mayor was always concerned about the little things in the city. I remember getting calls from him at 11pm because a thought had woken him up, something that needed to be looked at or needed to be corrected. It could be a property on Hyde Park Ave. or over in Bowdoin-Geneva, just something he noticed as he moved around the city that stuck with him. And I’d look at the money I had and what kind of result it could get and I knew it wouldn’t be enough for him. If we had a dollar to spend, he wanted a buck and a half back. I’d be satisfied with $1.10, but he wasn’t.

What many people don’t remember is Menino, when he was on the City Council, he chaired the Ways and Means Committee for years. He understands municipal finance and the city budget better than just about anyone. Back when he first came to office, the mayor told me he was afraid that financial trouble or a drop in the city’s bond rating could inhibit moving the city forward. He said, “I won’t let any financial problem slow improvements down.” And he didn’t. That could be seen as one of his greatest accomplishments. The mayor did a terrific job that has let the city improve the schools, improve the streets, convince companies it is a good, solid place to put money. I recently read Boston is now the sixth most economically powerful cities in the world. That’s because of how well he’s managed the city’s money, the taxpayers’ money.

Back in 1992, when I still called him Tommy, he was considering a run for Congress. I said to him, “Tommy, you’re not interested in this. If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?” He immediately responded, be the mayor of the city of Boston. How many people do you know whose dreams come true like that? He made it happen because he loves the city so much.

Architect John Eade ran Boston’s Inspectional Services Department from 1994 to 1998. He spoke with Kathleen Kingsbury.

Menino welcomed diversity to Boston

March 29, 2013 09:45 AM

I met Tom Menino in 1993, the year before I won a seat in the state legislature. I’ve always admired his straight talk and wry humor, his unpretentious personality and his commitment to public service. I liked that he enjoyed the company of regular folk as I did— we would joke that we preferred a community meeting to a black tie affair, any day.

In 1999, the mayor invited me to join his administration, and I worked with him for eight years as chief of housing and director of the department of neighborhood development. Together we tackled revitalization projects and spearheaded an initiative to create a comprehensive housing blueprint for Boston called Leading the Way.

He is a man of action— full of energy, with a great capacity for hard work. He pushed the envelope on social issues. He ventured into sections of the city, which had historically been overlooked— and he invested in those communities. He has made Boston a more open and accessible place, welcoming diversity and helping the city move beyond its history of racial strife. He welcomed gays, immigrants, women, and people of color into his administration. He cared about the plight of low-income families and the homeless, and showed a special compassion for children and teens.

Years after I left my job with the city, I joined a national organization that helps reconnect young people who have gotten off track with education and jobs. In 2011, the mayor co-sponsored a resolution urging Congress to restore funding to the federal YouthBuild program. This issue was right up his alley and he took immediate action, always the public servant, ready to lend a helping hand.

Thank you, Mayor Menino, for building a better Boston. Because of your stewardship, we have a stronger city and a better place to live.

Charlotte Golar Richie, a former member of the Menino administration, is the senior vice president for public policy, advocacy and government relations for YouthBuild USA.

Menino’s best skill? Staying out of the way of progress

March 28, 2013 05:37 PM

It may all seem like ancient history now — how many young people even know there was such a thing as the elevated Central Artery? — but in the mid-1990s, at the beginning of Mayor Menino’s tenure, Boston was ripe with change and promise. The population flight had clearly bottomed out, as young professionals and aging boomers clamored for cosmopolitan amenities. There was the Big Dig, the Silver Line, the burying of the Green Line in front of a new Boston Garden (anybody remember the elevated?), air rights proposals for the Mass Pike, a new or refurbished Fenway Park, a new downtown stadium proposed for the Patriots, a new convention center, proposals to reinvent urban renewal-era spaces like City Hall Plaza — and above all, the frontier of the South Boston Waterfront, now known as the Seaport. The Globe was sending reporters like myself all around to look at what other cities were doing to activate their industrial waterfronts. And in the middle of it all was Menino, who was continually asked, what's your vision? How is all of this going to come together? The urban mechanic was thought to be a natural at urban planning. "I'm into this. Really," he said after one meeting on the Seaport Public Realm Plan that covered sidewalk widths, parking, and terms like "water sheet" and "view corridors."

I don't think it ever truly inspired him, though — the physical planning of the city. At least not in the sense of a Robert Moses or a Kevin White, the latter with his talk of a New Boston. Now, he famously controlled lots of aspects of building and development in this city, from neighborhood building codes to close relationships with key builders. No development got done in Boston without the mayor's blessing. And yes, he required new sksycrapers to have more interesting tops. But the big-picture placemaking — somehow that just never seemed truly compelling to him. At a groundbreaking outside City Hall, the mayor ran into Doug Foy, who at that time served on the commission redesigning the lifeless plaza — and asked Foy what in the world he was doing there. Other mayors — Richard Daley of Chicago comes to mind — thought big and talked bigger, conjuring an inspiring vision that would make the metropolis like no other. When the urban design consultants showed their slides, Menino would just as likely look at his watch.

The big question, though, is whether any of that mattered. Menino didn't plan like Daniel Burnham or Baron Haussmann; the city simply transformed all around him. The success of the Seaport right now cannot be attributed to any plan (the public realm plan focused on Fan Pier; the smash hit is many blocks away up Northern Boulevard, where Jimmy's Harborside used to be). The city is fresh and new, from the Garden to the Gardner Museum addition. More is on the way, like the Government Center garage. Often he was surgical in his interventions, to great effect — ushering in the Millennium tower at lower Washington Street, for example, or making his support plain for the restoration of the Paramount and Opera House theaters. He was a little bit late to green building, but the city is now arguably a leader. His embrace of food trucks and the bike-share program is right there on the cutting edge of hipster planning. For the future, he has wisely insisted that future development take into account the impacts of climate change, most notably sea level rise. These are more subtle turns of knobs and dials.

Some, like the self-trained urbanist Jane Jacobs, argue that cities flourish best when they are allowed to be more self-organizing. In terms of the physical city, to a large degree, Menino let Boston happen. In not spending too much time on grand pronouncements or bold visions of metropolitan coherence, it is possible the mayor had it right all along.

Anthony Flint is a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. He was a reporter in the Globe's City Hall Bureau from 1997-2000. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyflint.

Newton mayor Setti Warren on what Tom Menino taught him about governing

March 28, 2013 05:05 PM

When I first became mayor of Newton, I had a chance to meet with Boston Mayor Tom Menino. I thought it was going to be a very brief courtesy meeting. But it turned into a 45-minute talk about how to be an effective mayor and public servant. We talked about everything from his initiative on gun violence, which I joined, to some of the new innovative practices on citizen outreach he put into place.

In that meeting, he really emphasized the importance of giving kids opportunities. One of the things I'm pushing this summer is internships for local kids. I got that idea from him. He advised me that it’s important to have the long-term view, but it's vital to be on the ground. Certainly that’s the way he conducted himself as mayor. On a personal level I appreciated his friendship and advice. From a professional standpoint, having him as a role model for municipal government was a real opportunity.

He and I have had a lot of time to spend with each other, and one of the things I learned is that he developed this great friendship with Pedro Martinez. I used to love watching Pedro pitch, so to hear the mayor talk about him as a friend was a great surprise to me. This is a guy who can be friends with a future Hall of Fame pitcher, but can also relate to the local person in the neighborhood that has no fame or wealth. They are both just as important to him. I really enjoyed that authentic way about the mayor, how he had friends like Pedro, but at the same time he treated people from Dorchester and Southie with the same respect.

Setti Warren is the mayor of Newton.

Menino made Bostonians proud of their city

March 28, 2013 04:20 PM

When I arrived in Boston in 1972, it was a decrepit city of the past. Sure, it had great universities and hospitals, but, by and large, residents of greater Boston were ashamed of what it had become, and many wanted to get out. Not any longer. Over the past twenty years, Boston has established itself as world-class, and nobody is laughing at the idea. Billions of dollars are being spent to build housing for the tens of thousands wanting to move into the city. The fact that this turnaround happened in such a short period of time is a tribute to Tom Menino.

But to just talk about the success of the downtown areas misses the mayor’s true essence. It’s a usually a hackneyed phrase when you say that a politician “never forgot where he came from,” but it was never truer than for Tom Menino. Boston mayors have much power, which has seduced some into a sense that they can go for a different brass ring near a different river, or to be the king of the “downtown” world.

Not this mayor. Tom Menino never lost interest in the daily goings-on of our local neighborhoods. He seems to know everything that’s happening in the smallest corners of the city, and with the people who live there. He lights up when meeting and talking to local young people. And he never fails to mention that community health centers are as important a part of Boston as the great teaching hospitals, or that the Ferdinand Building development in Dudley Square is more important than the new downtown skyscrapers.

Mayor Menino cares particularly for residents of low-income neighborhoods, and he is personally offended that poverty is allowed to exist in our country. His focus on changing this has made the dramatic improvement in the neighborhoods of Boston his most important legacy.

Dorchester activist Bill Walczak is Vice President of Shawmut Design and Construction.

Menino made development work for the whole city, not just downtown

March 28, 2013 02:53 PM

The cranes rising above Boston’s Seaport district mark the spot where Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s legacy looks to be rising. The Seaport that Menino inherited 20 years ago consisted of hundreds of acres of rotting piers, windswept parking lots, and shabby brick warehouses. He will leave City Hall with gleaming new restaurants, apartments, and office towers rising along the waterfront, and the old warehouses buzzing with young tech firms. This part of Menino’s development legacy stands out, because it’s both obvious and hugely tangible. But focusing on what Menino built crowds out his real accomplishment, which was changing the relationship between Boston neighborhoods and downtown development.

Roiling tension over development defined Menino’s predecessors. Kevin White built the Financial District and saved Faneuil Hall, but left office caricatured as a downtown mayor. Ray Flynn framed his successful 1983 mayoral run against White’s downtown focus, arguing that he would return City Hall’s focus to the city’s neighborhoods. Flynn’s opponent, Mel King, tacked in the same direction.

Menino became the first modern Boston mayor to straddle both these worlds. For all his efforts to cast himself as an urban mechanic focused on the nuts-and-bolts minutiae of city government, Menino relished the role as city-builder as much as White did. He relished the small details of development, as when he famously picked out the crown-like structure now sitting atop the office tower at 111 Huntington Ave. And he enabled the new development in the Seaport, a legacy-building project as big as anything White did downtown.

Mayoral boosters shouldn’t just celebrate the fact that development is happening in Boston. Development should flow to any city that, like Boston, enjoys a deep concentration of important academic and medical institutions. Cambridge is currently enjoying a building boom that’s similar in scope to the one underway in Boston. The fact that city manager-led Cambridge has pulled off this feat without the services of Menino, or any mayor to speak of, shows the extent to which political leaders enjoy credit for economic forces largely beyond their control. Developers will rush to build in Boston, regardless of who the next mayor is. What matters is what cities do with the development business they attract. This is where Menino’s building legacy lies.

Menino found a way to tie massive downtown construction projects to the brand of small-ball, neighborhood-level politics that enabled him to dominate Boston for 20 years. Instead of making downtown development a zero-sum game, he seeded the benefits of downtown construction throughout neighborhoods.

Menino greatly expanded a system of linkage payments that Flynn instituted. The linkage payments funnel cash from downtown developments into neighborhood-improvement projects like affordable housing projects. Menino also ruled over an affordable housing quota system that requires private housing developers to construct a minimum number of affordable units in every project they build. The linkage payments and affordable housing quotas work toward the same ends — they socialize private development, and spread the benefits of construction through the city.

Paul McMorrow is an associate editor at CommonWealth Magazine. His column appears regularly in the Globe.

In post-9/11 era, Menino pushed back against federal security officials

March 28, 2013 01:55 PM

Though many aspects of Mayor Tom Menino’s tenure will be evaluated and reevaluated, one that doesn’t get much attention is how often Menino has taken on the federal government’s security apparatus — no matter which political party is in charge — when he thinks its actions aren’t good for Boston.

Menino hates the liquefied natural gas tankers that come into Boston Harbor, believing them to be a potential risk to the city. It was bad enough when the ships were coming in from Trinidad; when I was in federal government and involved with the decision to allow a ship to come from Yemen periodically, Menino made it publicly clear he had a lot of questions. Allowing the Yemeni tanker was a change that Menino demanded we make only with utmost care (including assessments of the facility in Yemen) and with a lot of security. And, of course, the feds would pay for both.

On immigration, Menino has pushed back at both the Bush and Obama administrations. He famously gave Bush’s former immigration director a public scolding for her approval of a massive immigration raid in New Bedford in 2007.

Later, under Obama, Menino became one of the most vocal local opponents of Secure Communities, an effort by the Department of Homeland Security to utilize local law enforcement to determine the immigration status of those detained or booked. It has been a controversial program, and Menino always felt that any good from it (for example, being able to deport serious criminal offenders) was far outweighed by the harm it might do to local policing efforts and the outreach to new Bostonians. He's periodically deployed police chief Edward F. Davis to Washington to make the case that the program was hindering police by alienating the immigrant community.

Menino has viewed the safety and security of his city less through the lens of homeland security and more as hometown security. He simply never cared when federal security officials showed up, wrapped in the mantra of 9/11, to claim dominance. For him, the safety of the city has been personal.

Juliette Kayyem served as assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, and was Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s homeland security advisor.

Menino made the city his extended family

March 28, 2013 01:21 PM

My years of working with, for, and even against Tom Menino go back four decades, to the days when we would huddle on Sunday nights in a small East Boston room to work out campaign strategy for then-mayoral candidate Joe Timilty. In later years we found ourselves serving together on the Boston City Council, and even briefly running against each other for mayor. I remain convinced that one of his secrets to his success is that he always considered the city of Boston to be his extended family.

What is it about his approach that makes the analogy work? For one, just try to say something bad about Boston, his city, in front of him. He can be critical of the city, but, like a member of a family, he won’t stand for anyone else doing so.

Much is made of how Menino can be gruff, or how he yells at people with whom he's unhappy. I never understood this concern, perhaps because I have seen it from an upfront and close perspective.

We’ve all gotten angry or raised our voices with our kids. Why? It’s because we love them and disagree with what they’re doing. It was always clear to me that if Tom Menino cared about you, he would occasionally get angry with you. Over the years, it has happened to a lot of us, but I never felt it was mean or personal, but rather, it reminded me that, as a Bostonian, I was a small part of what he considered his extended family.

There’s no escaping your family. Whether you find yourself in the same house or not, they belong to you and you to them. Similarly, whether Tom Menino is in City Hall or not, he belongs to Boston and Boston belongs to him. It is this simple fact that makes him, in my humble opinion, Boston’s greatest mayor.

Come January, when he leaves the building, he’ll never be very far away, and will still have much to contribute to us all. Here’s hoping he still occasionally picks up the phone to yell at me for a long time to come!

John A. Nucci is a former Boston City Councilor at-large, former Boston School Committee president, former clerk-magistrate of Suffolk County Superior Court, and currently serves as vice president for government and community affairs at Suffolk University.

A modest proposal: Cities should clear snow from sidewalks instead of plowing streets

March 18, 2013 04:28 PM

If a snowstorm hits New England on Tuesday, as now forecast, cities and towns should try an unorthodox approach when snow starts piling up on the streets: leave it there, and plow the sidewalks instead.
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Winter storms normally prompt a heroic effort to clear streets — after the February blizzard, for instance, Boston deployed 678 plows and diggers to excavate the city from 2 feet of snow.

But this time, why not try a radically historic approach? Let drivers fend for themselves.

The idea is not as alien as it might seem. Plowing was unheard of until the automobile. In the winter, a wheeled carriage was switched out with a sleigh. Likewise, cars can be equipped to deal with snow. Drivers can put chains on their tires. Perhaps in the future every vehicle should also be required to have its own salt sprayer, the way every property owner is now required to shovel their own sidewalk.

More fundamentally, why is it that private citizens are now responsible for digging out sidewalks, while municipalities plow the roads for vehicles at great expense? Mayor Menino has said the car is no longer king in Boston, but you wouldn't know it from the way the city uses its resources on snowy days.

Certainly, treatment of pedestrians has improved in other respects. Drivers have to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, curbs increasingly have wheelchair-accessible ramps.

But these rules cease to mean anything when someone with a wheelchair or a walker or a pair of sneakers can't get off the sidewalk and across the street because of snow blocking their way. The problem is that snowplows often "clear" the streets for drivers by pushing snow onto the sidewalk.

Obviously, cities aren’t really going to quit plowing streets anytime soon. But if the idea seems too outlandish, here's a less radical request: If my neighbors and I shovel our sidewalks for each other, the city should at least clear the crosswalks. The weakest link in the chain of pedestrian transit infrastructure shouldn't be the same one taxpaying pedestrians spend millions of dollars to clear: the streets.

Zach Youngerman is a master of city planning student at MIT in the City Design and Development group.

Photo by Zach Youngerman: Snow blocks a crosswalk in Harvard Square after February's blizzard.

ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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