Image by Scott Murry
Back in 2007, then-Boston Mayor Tom Menino said something to a church crowd in Dorchester that he would be mocked for in media circles for years to come. “The problem,” he told the neighborhood, which was then reeling from street violence, “is you’re always seeing headlines about the bad news. I wish we had a good news newspaper: the Good News of Boston. The bad guys don’t control this city, they only control the headlines.”
Though Hizzoner was hopefully using hyperbole in a desperate attempt to divert blame, he did have a point. Reporters tend to focus on negative things like municipal waste, violent crime, and a shadowy development apparatus. But enough cheap shots. In Mayor for a New America, his memoir, out this week co-written by Mass media icon Jack Beatty, it’s Menino’s turn to shape the narrative.
The result is a 200-plus page edition of the Good News of Boston. From the helm of this publication, Menino presents a version of the past four decades of local politics that’s absolutely entertaining, but should be taken with a pound of salt. There’s a telling statement early on that reflects the mayor’s subjective lens: “Call my City Hall,” he writes, “and you never got an answering machine.” In reality, this statement is true. Look deeper, and the fact is that his administration didn’t use voicemail until February of last year.
For a guy who was recently in a wheelchair, Menino remains as nimble as the Man from Nantucket. A lot of the time, however, his confidence soils the sniff test. For anyone who’s lived near Dudley Square or even driven along Blue Hill Avenue in the past half-century, his account of rehabilitation in those areas will surely prove laughable. Have things improved? Of course. Are the schools and shopping districts that Menino asked to be judged on still inadequate? You bet.
Menino wants to be remembered as a mayor of the people, of a “New America,” but there’s nothing new about catering to plutocrats. The fact he couldn’t get through a chapter about the bombing of the Boston Marathon without giving props to John Hancock, State Street, and Bain Capital speaks libraries. Menino sheathes his working-class legacy, saying the new waterfront is “for highly educated young people living on modest budgets.” But such baloney rings so insincere it’s difficult to even think that he believes it.
It seems the most genuine and honest tales are the ones from behind closed doors (though first-hand observers may disagree). Delusional self-praise aside, this book is a must-read for Menino’s stories from his early years in politics, first with the Timilty camp and eventually his own machine. His old school ethics are on full display: blatantly lowering water bills to secure his first mayoral victory, bullying Joe Biden into giving the One Fund its IRS status, manipulating the public, most likely for the better, to keep the New England Patriots outside city limits.
Considering this memoir in the context of his service, it would be ridiculous to fault Menino for failing to unite communities of color with police, and to truly modernize schools, and to make all residents happy. The problem, though, is that he either thinks he actually accomplished those things, or believes people are soft enough to buy it when he says he did. In truth, Menino is probably a much more generous person than the hacks he often derided. But that’s why, even in retirement, he should stay on the governing side of things and leave the reporting to journalists. In the age of cheery listicles and aggregated puff pieces, the last thing anybody needs is the Good News of Boston.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.