Say what you will about Tom Menino –really, take your best shot–but not even his mortal enemies would dare call him corrupt for cash. Rather, his rifts over the years have emanated from his lust for power, and his legendary meticulous micromanagement style. Well, that and his hating the shit out of the occasional fashion trend or chicken sandwich. Without further ado, here’s a highlight reel of Hizzoner’s most memorable donnybrooks, in alphabetical order.
PETER “ZEBBLER” BERDOVSKY
The year was 2007. A reported 40 LED signs shaped like Mooninites promoting the Cartoon Network’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie were hung around Boston. No one was particularly scared, but the cops and city irrationally freaked anyway, their fears elevating into an all-out bomb scare. After it’s revealed that local artist Peter “Zebbler” Berdovsky was involved, Menino called the act an “irresponsible” “nitwit technique.” Charges were dropped, Turner Broadcasting paid a $2 million settlement to the city, and all these years later, Berdovsky was recently hired to stage a $50,000 electronic show at Boston’s First Night festivities.
As developer Jay Cashman told Boston magazine in 2006: “The problem with Tom Menino … is when everyone is kissing your ass, you start to believe your ass is beautiful. But it’s really just a big, fat ass.” Their rub reportedly started when one of Cashman’s employees abrasively chastised the Menino administration after being passed up for a city contract. “I tried to explain the story to him, that the guy was nuts,” Cashman told Boston, “but it didn’t seem to do the job. Ever since then, it’s been weird.”
This beef seems simple: hot shot developer Don Chiofaro–most famous for being the chief force behind the exquisite One International Place–wants to build a mixed-use oasis on Boston Harbor where a parking garage now stands, and Menino, more or less inexplicably, has refused him permission. What’s much more complicated, however, is trying to figure out why they can’t just get along, though that’s more or less a futile topic at this point. Chiofaro has been silent lately, but you can expect that to change the moment that Menino leaves office.
Unfortunately, after two decades of mostly excellent leadership, Menino will be remembered by a lot of people outside of the city as the mayor who, for better or worse, took on Chick Fil-A for its position against gay marriage. Fortunately, he told the homophobic poultry mongers to stay the fuck out of the Hub, causing much libertarian consternation in the process, and clocking major national headlines for a full week.
Though there were moments during the final stretch of the mayoral race when it was rumored that Menino backed Councilor-At-Large John Connolly, nobody mistook him for a fan before the mayor pulled himself out of contention. After Connolly announced his plans to run last February, Menino told reporters, “Young man … Wants to be mayor. Good luck to him.”
Without opponents like Jamarhl Crawford, you can’t really have a mayor like Menino. Though a liberal icon by national standards, Hizzoner too often got a free pass from progressives on everything from crime to affordable housing. Not from Jamarhl Crawford though; always loud, informed, and increasingly relied on by big media outlets for a black community perspective, the Roxbury activist held the mayor accountable for enduring social and economic disparities through countless public demonstrations and his Blackstonian newspaper.
Kevin McCrea may not be the only person who Menino pissed off enough to run against him–former City Councilor-At-Large Maura Hennigan also comes to mind–but he may be the most awesomely outspoken. McCrea, a South End developer and businessman, went so far as to call City Hall “corrupt’’ during a mayoral debate, and to wave a property deed reflecting the sale of city land in West Roxbury to a public employee. “We need to stop the giveaways!” McCrea barked.
In 2009, when few others had the balls to confront Menino about his failures in the transit and nightlife areas, Karmaloop founder Greg Selkoe emerged as a leading critic with an army of young creatives behind him. “What type of thing is it for everybody in this whole city to be afraid of the mayor?” Selkoe asked publicly at the time. “I should be able to criticize Menino all I want, and then be able to open up a club tomorrow. But I would never even try, because they would find a way to block me. That’s not the way that it’s supposed to be in this country, but anyone who says it goes down differently around here is kidding themselves.”
The history books will show that Menino was powerful enough to take down not just one, but two tandem opponents in his final race for City Hall in 2009. Despite the joint Floon moniker and combined people power of all Michael Flaherty’s horses and all Sam Yoon’s men, they couldn’t knock Hizzoner out of the top spot. Legendary stuff.
You have to hand it to former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, who left City Hall mid-term to work for the Clinton administration. He never bothered hiding his resentment toward Menino for never reaching out for help, or asking for advice. “Tommy’s been mayor for 16 years and he’s never called me,” Flynn once told a reporter. “After all I did for him.” Recently, Flynn reinforced these sentiments in an interview on Boston Public Radio with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.
While some whales fought with the mayor over his reluctance to grant building permits, Back Bay landscape architect and community activist Shirley Kressel hounded the Menino administration to slow down what she considers excessive downtown development. “He let developers that he likes do whatever they want,” Kressel, also a co-founder of the Alliance of Boston Neighborhoods, told WBUR earlier this year.
To his tremendous credit, Menino didn’t even bother personally addressing whether the lowly and abusive Walmart should be permitted to build in Roxbury. “Dudley Square is a unique and special place in the heart of the city, and we don’t believe Walmart is in keeping with that uniqueness,’’ his spokesperson, Dot Joyce, told the Boston Globe. “This is about protecting public investments put into Dudley and building a neighborhood that supports the local businesses that have weathered the tough times.”