One of my first assignments when I started as a general assignment reporter at the Boston Herald in 1999 was covering Thanksgiving at the Pine Street Inn.
I was a young reporter and wasn’t too psyched to be working the holiday. I was pretty annoyed, to be honest.
I shuffled over from the old Herald building (which is now being transformed into the million-dollar condo-laden Ink Block project) to Pine Street and was surprised to see Mayor Menino serving food. It was something the mayor would later tell me was always one of his favorite things to do.
And for the next 14 years and through three re-election campaigns, I covered his administration. I would often stalk him by his black SUV in the horseshoe driveway in back of City Hall to press him on the news of the day. Some days, he’d be furious with me about something I had written. Other times, he’d shrug the hit off with a snarky quip. The man was not short on wit.
I really enjoyed his unpredictable nature when the cameras and recorders were off. I’ll always marvel at how quickly he was able to switch gears once the cameras and recorders were running, and when you think how often that was it speaks volumes to his tremendous talent. He famously wasn’t a “fancy talker,” but he was a master at handling the media, with a demonstrated ability to get his message out and generally keep his cool, even when faced with stiff criticism.
During his final days in office, he was mad about bus driver strikes, sore about Suffolk Downs’ missteps in its failed bid for a casino license, and furious about Rolling Stone putting a teen hearthrob-like picture of accused Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover. That last one really “fried his nose,” as he once said.
I’ll never forget the image of him sitting in his wheelchair on Boylston Street just days after the Marathon bombings, recovering from yet another surgery no less, and receiving a folded flag from soldiers as the bomb-scarred boulevard was turned back over to the city. It was a somber day, and a poignant ceremony. It was truly his FDR moment. A couple days later, he returned to eat at Solas, located a stone’s throw from the bombing site, in a symbolic message to the city that Boylston Street was back in business.
Then there was perhaps his most iconic moment: when he rose from that wheelchair to speak at an interfaith memorial for the bombing victims alongside Gov. Deval Patrick and President Obama.
“Nothing can defeat the heart of this city,” he said that day. “Nothing will take us down because we take care of one another.”
A few months later, I and my co-author Casey Sherman had the chance to sit down with him for our upcoming book on the Marathon bombings, Boston Strong: A City’s Triumph Over Tragedy. He was candid and emotional, yet humble. When I pressed him as to how it felt to be a symbol of the city’s strength, in classic Menino fashion he told us he drew strength from the survivors. He said there was no way he wasn’t standing up to speak at the podium—despite his doctor’s advice—given the incredible agony the survivors had to endure.
I’m pretty sure he knew for quite some time that he was a lot sicker than he let on, and I think it’s safe to say when he made the agonizing decision not to seek a sixth term last year he knew his health situation was very bad, if not dire.
I feel bad Tom Menino didn’t get a longer ride off into the sunset. He earned the extra time. Maybe a couple more cruises in Italy. Maybe a few more trips to the North End. Maybe another visit to the Marathon finish line.
But I feel confident he enjoyed his life and loved every minute he had serving this city.
Near the end of his final term, he told me that the reason he put up with all the political shenanigans, media criticism, contentious union battles, and difficulties of public life was because he wanted to leave the city a better place for his grandchildren.
He—and all of us—can rest assured that he did.
FROM THE CITY OF BOSTON (10.30.14): For constituents who wish to extend their condolences:
- City Hall will be open until 11:00 p.m. tonight.
- Flowers and mementos may be left in City Hall, inside the main City Hall entrance (City Hall Plaza side).
- By tomorrow, condolence books will be located in all neighborhood libraries (www.bpl.org/branches) and community centers (www.cityofboston.gov/BCYF/
- Letters and cards may be sent to: Mayor Menino’s Office, Boston University, 75 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215.
- Visit tommenino.org for complete information.