When you work around politicians and other Very Important People for a living, you tend to accumulate various forms of interesting memorabilia. After two-plus decades of doing this, I’ve only kept three items, since living in an expensive coastal city often means having to make brutal decisions about those items for which you have actually have the space to keep in your tiny coastal city apartment.
Item one: the actual handwritten voting tally sheet from the U.S. Senate from one of the times when we actually came relatively close to passing ENDA on Capitol Hill, accompanied by an optimistic handwritten note from Sen. Ted Kennedy essentially saying that, working together, someday we will pass this legislation. (It’s sad that Sen. Kennedy did not live to see passed.)
Item two: a copy of the Congressional Record into which U.S. Rep. Barney Frank entered an editorial I wrote about why bullying is not simply a matter of kids being kids, as some legislators were insisting during the debate about federal hate crimes legislation.
(Incidentally, Barney just announced that he was donating his official congressional papers not to Harvard, his alma mater, but to U-Mass-Dartmouth in a move that is seen as a major coup for the small institution.)
“Harvard doesn't need me," Frank said at the announcement. "Over the years, I've come to appreciate the people, the lifestyle and the culture of Southeastern Massachusetts.”
“Harvard doesn’t need me.” How awesome is that? This move is emblematic of why Frank remains on a lot of hero lists in these parts, including mine.
Item three: a signed picture of outgoing Boston Mayor Tom Menino and I clasping hands and greeting one another (friends say it looks as if we’re about ready to kiss) after he had basically just spent a few minutes busting my chops on-stage in front of everyone at an HRC dinner in the late 1990s.
I’ve never written about this incident before because it seemed self-serving to do so, but now that Menino has announced he will not seek re-election, I think the story is useful in explaining my take on the man who may be the greatest mayor this city has ever had.
Some background: the city had been, during the time leading up to the HRC dinner in question, cracking down on bars and nightclubs, oppressively so in my mind.
I felt then (and still feel) that any city, but especially a college-and-university city, has to encourage a vibrant nightlife. This means making trade-offs with city residents who, after all, likely picked city life over suburban living with full knowledge that city living means some noise up to a certain time at night.
Instead of this, I felt the city was caving too much to real estate interests who basically would like a Starbucks, Gap or Olive Garden in every business space, and nothing that was open after 10 o’clock at night. My feeling was that if you wanted this kind of atmosphere, you moved to a bland suburb. If you live in or near a city business district, you put up with some noise up until shortly after bar closing time at 2:00 in the morning.
So I started referring to Menino as Mayor No Fun, even when I wasn’t writing about nightlife issues. It stuck in some small way because other people I met started referring to him as Mayor No Fun in conversations with me.
So along comes that year’s swanky HRC dinner. I should have known something was up because our table was directly in front of the podium on-stage. We were never that far toward the front.
Menino has a reputation for, at times, not taking public criticism well. And there have been times when he has been — let’s be charitable — chilly toward me after I wrote something that displeased him. You don’t know being frozen out until you’ve been frozen out by Menino as he shakes your hand and looks right through you to the person behind you.
But I’ve mostly experienced him as an enormous good sport — as when he made fun of me for 10 minutes in front of an auditorium of formally dressed people — who has always had what he felt were the best interests of the city and its residents uppermost in his mind. And if he has been pissed at you, it's only when he felt you were unfair in a critique of him or his administration’s policies.
His knowledge of the city is as broad and deep as anyone I’ve personally encountered, so the branding of him in some quarters as not smart enough for a city with world-class universities was always unfair and ill-informed.
He (and his lovely wife, Angela) have also set the high watermark for a municipal chief executive’s generous embrace of our community long before it became as acceptable as it is now. He did it before it was cool, and that fact alone should give him a revered place in this city’s history.
Mr. Mayor, you’ve been great. I’m sorry to see you go.
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