From Hyde Park to East Boston, from corporate suites to gritty bus stops, Bostonians credited their five-term “urban mechanic” Thursday with fixing more than potholes in the past 20 years.
The city has become cleaner and safer under Mayor Thomas M. Menino, residents said, but has also changed in myriad ways that cannot be quantified by cold data, like inclusiveness, vibrancy, and optimism.
Still, many said the time is right for Menino to step aside. At 70, he has been slowed by health problems that hospitalized him for eight weeks.
“He’s a regular guy just like the rest of us, you know, and that’s how he approached the job of mayor,” said Judy Pais, 64, one of Menino’s neighbors in Hyde Park. “I’m not so politically active, but I think the city’s better off for having him these past 20 years. It’s the little things that count, in a big way.”
Those “little things” include the grunt work expected of any big-city mayor, such as street maintenance and summer jobs. But Menino also showed a broad vision that belied his reputation as a simple man of limited reach, Bostonians said.
From homelessness to English-language courses, park improvements to gun control, the mayor built a legacy, residents said, that extends beyond the countless miles he spent roaming the neighborhoods of what had long been regarded as a fiercely tribal city.
“I think Boston is one of the most welcoming cities now, and I think the mayor has made a big difference on that,” said John Willshire Carrera, a Jamaica Plain resident and board president of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “He’s been very, very clear that the city is a city of immigrants.”
Willshire Carrera cited Menino’s decision to create the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians in 1998 as an important statement. The office helps fund English-language programs that serve about 1,100 immigrants a year, he said.
The mayor’s commitment to inclusiveness is also demonstrated by his longtime support for the gay community, said Dr. Stephen Boswell, president of Fenway Health, which reaches out to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender residents.
“In my view, he’s been one of the most important mayors this city has ever seen, especially from the standpoint of the LGBT community,” Boswell said. “From his first term, he demonstrated in concrete ways that he was supportive of everyone who lives here.”
Menino has attended nearly every major fund-raising event held by Fenway Health during the past 20 years, he added, and was instrumental in helping the capital campaign to build its Boylston Street headquarters.
Perhaps the mayor’s singular accomplishment, however, is his press-the-flesh familiarity. A Globe poll released Monday showed that 49 percent of respondents said they had personally met Menino. One of them is Igor Kharitonenkov, 25, of Jamaica Plain.
Kharitonenkov said he vividly remembers when he met Menino in September 2010 at a ground-breaking ceremony for the Emerald Necklace Conservancy. After being introduced, Kharitonenkov handed the mayor a DVD about the conservancy’s history.
“He said, ‘Keep up the good work, pal,’ ” Kharitonenkov recalled. “It was real quick, but it was a cool moment.’’
Paul Sedgwick, 52, a Boston public school teacher, said he has shaken Menino’s hand about a dozen times.
“He loves to meet the people he serves, and he’s tried to serve all of the neighborhoods equally,” Sedgwick said on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain.
However, Sedgwick said, Menino’s health makes his decision the right one.
Those cross-currents of sentiment — gratitude for service; anticipation of new leadership — were repeated across the city.
In Mattapan Square, Colette McCoy, 60, said that “I’m not happy to see him go, but he has to pay attention to his health.”
A record 20 years as mayor, she said, is a good run.
On Broadway in South Boston, Jennifer Ledet, 39, agreed that a transition will be welcome. “He has served his time well. He’s been good to us, but it’s time for change,’’ Ledet said.
In Jamaica Plain, 20-year-old Eddie Johnson said he was shocked to hear that the only Boston mayor he has ever known will soon step down.
“Wow, that’s crazy,” said Johnson, a lifelong city resident. “It’s been no secret he’s been having health issues. If he feels he can’t continue at the same capacity, then he should step down.”
Nayda Paz, 47, of Roxbury, agreed that the mayor deserves a break. She credited Menino with cracking down on landlords who do not treat properties or tenants well, but said some friends had been ignored after asking Menino for help.Continued...