A visibly weakened Mayor Thomas M. Menino faced reporters Thursday for the first time in almost seven weeks, showing flashes of humor in an interview and pondering his political legacy.
Menino remained seated for the 16-minute media session at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, answering a range of questions about city government, future political plans, his lengthy hospital stay, and his recent diagnosis with type 2 diabetes. After a morning occupational therapy session, Menino appeared tired, frequently closed his eyes, and spoke slowly—a byproduct of antibiotics and painkillers as well as medical tests and the prolonged hospitalization, according to his staff.
“I feel much better,” Menino said, while making clear his frustration that he has been in the hospital for so long. “It’s just wearing. I keep on reading the papers. My staff comes in the daytime going over stuff going on in City Hall.”
Despite his lethargy, Menino’s wit remained sharp. He teased reporters, dismissed columnists’ calls for him to step aside, and bantered about the political chatter of the day. Menino noted that Las Vegas magnate Steve Wynn had toured a potential casino site in Everett, a move that could mean competition for the gaming resort the mayor covets for East Boston.
“Wynn will come and put his stinky old nose into it and start some fun,” Menino quipped.
The five-term mayor said emphatically that he was not retiring—“I checked my retirement. It wasn’t good enough.”—and he declined to discuss whether he will run for re-election next year.
“My future? God only knows that,” Menino said. “Those decisions will be made some other day. Right now, I can’t wait to get out of this place.”
It was the first glimpse inside the medical cocoon from which Menino has been running city government for more than a month. Menino, 69, had not been seen in public since he left with his wife for a vacation in Italy on Oct. 14. In Thursday’s interview, Menino said he “got very sick in Palermo,” cut the trip short, flew back to Boston, and went directly to Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Oct. 26.
Doctors initially diagnosed him with an upper respiratory infection and a blood clot that traveled from a leg to his lungs. In the hospital, he suffered a spine fracture. Menino had begun to recover from the fracture, doctors have said, when he developed an infection in the same area. Further tests showed that the mayor had type 2 diabetes, which can make people more susceptible to infection.
“Now, they say you have type 2 diabetes,” Menino said with a hint of frustration. “I had tests in June and August, never showed any of that. Any of that at all.”
Menino seemed sanguine about life as a diabetic. He said one of Boston’s most successful businessmen—a philanthropist whom he did not identify—has lived with type 2 diabetes for 50 years.
“You can’t go out and eat chocolate bars and stuff, but you can have certain things,” Menino said. “It doesn’t ruin your life. It makes you have a healthier lifestyle.”
While Menino answered questions from two newspaper reporters and a television news anchor, his wife, Angela, sat off to the side. Menino’s press secretary, Dot Joyce, stood behind a TV cameraman filming for the evening news. The mayor’s security detail—two Boston police officers in plain clothes—stood sentry at the door.
That core group spends a significant amount of time with Menino when he is healthy, crisscrossing the city to attend groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, and other events. During his prolonged hospital stay, members of that group have been mainstays, along with a few other top aides.
For the interview Thursday, Menino wore gym shoes, black exercise pants with a red stripe, and a matching red fleece jacket with his name and title embossed on the left breast.
Menino’s left eye appeared red and opened little more than a slit. In a separate interview, Menino’s physician at Spaulding, Dr. Jaye Hefner said the mayor suffered a broken blood vessel in the white part of the eye. That may have happened during a coughing jag, Hefner said, or it may be a consequence of the blood thinner Menino took for the clot in his lungs.
Hefner described the eye condition as a cosmetic issue and said it was not suggestive of a more significant medical problem, explicitly stating that the mayor had not suffered a stroke.
Since being transferred earlier this week to the rehabilitation hospital, Menino said he has been doing three hours of physical therapy a day. He said it could be weeks before he returned to City Hall.
“You know, when you are laid up that long, you aren’t using your muscles. They go lazy on you,” Menino said. “Sitting in a bed in a hospital all that time, what a waste.”
Since his absence, Menino said city government continued to function and move forward. He noted that during his hospital stay, Boston has weathered Hurricane Sandy, responded to a nor’easter, and held a presidential election. Across the country, people waited hours to vote, Menino said. But “Boston didn’t have any problems,” he said. [Some Boston polling places did have long lines. At one location in South Boston, people waited hours after polls closed to cast ballots.]
Menino also said the city added beds in shelters for the homeless and gave away more than 800 Thanksgiving turkeys to needy families.
“My administration still has a team to carry this city forward and do good things,” Menino said. “That’s the key. Who’s there when I’m not there? Can they carry government forward?
As the city’s chief executive, Menino must review and sign weekly financial documents and contend with other day-to-day matters. But the mayor rejected any suggestion that during his recovery he should temporarily cede some duties to City Council President Stephen J. Murphy.
“It’s not like the old days, ‘I’m the mayor and you’ll do this or else,’ ” Menino said. “You listen to [other people] and see how it’s going to work. You get their input. That’s how it works today. It’s not this fictitious dictator that some people want to make at City Hall.”
Menino brushed aside questions about potential opponents if he were to run for re-election next year. When a reporter asked if candidates should be gearing up for a campaign, Menino looked askance.
“Do I think somebody should run?” Menino asked. “Does your mother-in-law like you?”
Despite the jokes, Menino seemed conscious of his political mortality. Looking directly into the television camera, he became emotional and said he wanted people to know that he was “still out there fighting.”
“I’ll be back in a few weeks,” Menino said. “Just because the mayor may be down for a few days, he’s not out.”
He also seemed to be thinking about his legacy.
“I hope after all the years, whenever it ends, people will say, ‘He tried to help us,’ ” Menino said. “I try.” Andrew Ryan can be reached at email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.