By Annie Linskey
March 29 (Bloomberg) -- Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s decision to end his reign, the longest in the city’s 383-year history, set off a frenzied contest to replace him in the first mayoral election to lack an incumbent in three decades.
“The race will be totally wide open and hotly contested,” said Paul Watanabe, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts Boston. That hasn’t been the case since Democrat Kevin White said he wouldn’t seek re-election in 1983.
Before Menino said he wouldn’t run for a sixth term yesterday, City Councilor John Connolly had already challenged the incumbent last month. Others who may make a bid for the office include City Councilors Rob Consalvo and Tito Jackson, as well as state Representative Martin Walsh, a Democrat from the city’s Dorchester section, according to local news outlets.
Menino, a 70-year-old Democrat, said he will step down in January in a 20-minute speech to a packed auditorium in the 271-year-old Faneuil Hall that the mayor’s office overlooks. Saying he has nine more months and isn’t “letting up,” he pledged to stay out of the campaign to choose his replacement.
“I have no plans to pick the person to fill this seat,” Menino said. “I just ask that you choose someone who loves this city as much as I do.”
A who’s who of Massachusetts politics including Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, crowded into the hall on the second floor to hear the mayor’s formal announcement of an end to his 20 years in the city’s top job. As they listened to a soundtrack that included recordings such as “The Times They Are a-Changin’” by Bob Dylan and “These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs with Natalie Merchant, the luminaries mingled, shed tears and shared memories.
Around 4 p.m., the mayor slowly made his way down a center aisle to the sounds of Frank Sinatra singing “My Way,” the crowd came to its feet and applauded. Surrounded by friends and family at the podium, Menino said: “I’m here with the people I love to tell the city I love that I will leave the job that I love.”
Despite health issues that have best him in recent months, he remained defiant, saying that if he wanted to stay in office he could. “I can run,” he said. “I can win.” However, as he continued, Menino said he should have been in a physical therapy session instead of making his speech.
In recent months, illnesses have slowed the mayor. He was hospitalized in late October for treatments that kept him bedridden for eight weeks. Along with a fractured spine, ailments included blood clots, Type 2 diabetes and an acute respiratory infection, according to the Boston Globe. At the end of January, he walked with a cane to his annual State of the City speech and, this week, he had trouble climbing the stairs at a gay-rights event.
Throughout the day statements of praise for Menino poured in, including one from President Barack Obama, who credited him with making Boston into a “vibrant, welcoming, and world-class city.” Harvard University President Drew Faust wrote that the mayor made an “indelible impression.”
Menino, who filled the office in July 1993 when then-Mayor Ray Flynn was named U.S. Ambassador to Rome, was elected in his own right that November, becoming the first Italian-American to hold the post. Menino is known for helping the Massachusetts capital shed an insular reputation, and for his dedication to the nuts and bolts of governance.
The mayor has overseen an era of commercial and residential redevelopment, including a Seaport District dotted with cranes. He’s been a fixture in Boston neighborhoods, with his daily public schedule often including a half-dozen events. A recent Globe survey showed that more than half of respondents in Boston, a city of 625,000 residents, said they had met him at least once.
“He’s been the dominant figure for 20 years,” said Maurice Cunningham, a political-science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “Boston has had some outsized figures as mayor. He stands above all of them.”
Menino had a 74 percent approval rating among city residents in a March 26 Globe poll. The survey showed that 60 percent said his health was a “concern.”