It once seemed like Tom Menino would be Boston’s mayor for life. Earlier last year, after two decades of calling the shots in this city, Menino shocked the public by announcing he wouldn’t seek another term after battling with health issues over the years. As the longest-serving mayor in Boston’s 383-year history, Menino has successfully led Boston through many ups and downs, with a passionate focus across a wide range of issues.
Last Saturday, The Boston Globe reported that Menino has been diagnosed with an advanced form of an unknown cancer. Although doctors do not know the source of the former mayor’s cancer, 71-year-old Menino began chemotherapy and is scheduled to have more sessions.
With his diagnosis, I believe that now is an appropriate time to take a step back and recognize many of the changes Menino brought to the city of Boston that affect us today. As the “urban mechanic,” some of Menino’s accomplishments include efforts to reduce crime, encourage diversity, and promote economic growth. Whether you are familiar with Menino’s work as mayor or not, we all experience his efforts to reinvent Boston on a daily basis.
When Menino took office in 1993, Boston was in an economic recession and had suffered its worst annual violent crime rate. Despite low expectations, Menino worked hard to gain support from the Boston community.
He never looked back. Reelected four times, Menino never received less than 57 percent of the vote.
One of Boston’s critical issues in the ’80s was crime reduction. In order to lower crime in the city, Menino embraced the strategy of community policing, merging police forces with neighborhood leaders to avert crime. Perhaps his biggest step in making neighborhoods safer was Operation Homefront, which was a 1998 program that made teachers, police officers, and churches work with families and discourage crime. His policy has been so successful that Boston’s violent crime rate has dropped by 50 percent since Menino took office, according to The Globe.
Menino also helped Boston neighborhoods by developing local infrastructure, including new parks, community centers, and roadways. In 1995, Menino brought the Main Street Program to Boston, which helped neighborhoods rebuild while still maintaining their Bostonian charm. In addition to the 20,000 housing units built between 2000 and 2010, Menino also led the plan to develop the Government Center garage, a cluster of massive buildings in front of TD Garden, and a new skyscraper near the edge of the Christian Science plaza. He was also a key leader in the expansions of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. All of these changes will be visible for a number of years to come.
Perhaps the most significant improvement to Boston was Menino’s economic plan. During the 1970s and 1980s, Boston experienced a recession with high racial violence and a decline in manufacturing industries. Starting in the 1980s, Menino helped Boston replace its dependence on manufacturing with jobs in financial services, technology, and healthcare industries. Over the last 15 years, medical institutions have built more than 3.3 million square feet of new space for patient care and research, which has created more than 6,300 new jobs, according to Boston Redevelopment Authority data.
Throughout his reign as mayor, Menino was a strong individual and a symbol of hope for Boston. During the memorial service for the Boston Marathon bombing victims, he was a display of resilience as he pushed himself out of his wheelchair to proclaim, “We are one Boston.”
“I’ve never known Tom Menino to back down from a fight, and I don’t expect him to start now,” said current Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, in a statement. “Mayor Menino has always been here for the people of Boston, and we’re behind him today, 100 percent.”
Although he is no longer mayor, Menino’s display of strength is still evident today as he fights cancer. “My attitude, really, is we’ll get through this,” 71-year-old Menino told The Globe on Saturday.
The recent outpouring of support for Menino shows Boston’s gratitude for his work over the past two decades.
Boston thanks you, Tom Menino, for the large impact you’ve had on our city.