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.