Menino's magic for term five.
by Kevin John Sowyrda
How in the name of God does he do it? He's impervious to all the maladies of being an urban leader, including, shootings, an in the toilet real estate market, sky rocketing grocery prices, a continued exodus from the metropolis, a Swiss cheese tunnel, an airport that everyone hates more than Satan, a school system you wouldn't send your cocker spaniel to, real estate tax hikes which must have been authored by North End loan sharks and the ever growing schism between rich and poor, black and white, you name it. And yet, the Honorable Mayor Tom Menino - who apparently never heard John Silber's admonition, "when you're ripe, it's time to go," is raising cash hand over fist while not a single, solitary whimper of opposition can be heard from any nook or cranny in the Hub. Exactly how does Tom Menino seem to be heading for an unprecedented fifth term with no real opponent within a thousand miles; just as the chorus crows that Boston needs something different than, well, you know who?
Put more succinctly, what could possibly account for the mayor's Midas touch? He lacks the pizzazz of that new, French president who went Chernobyl on Leslie Stahl last Sunday and, with no disrespect intended, he's hardly a George Clooney type babe magnet. So where lies the attraction to four more years of an imperious and hyper sensitive city chief executive whose the only politician in America whose public verbosity makes that of George Bush seem erudite in comparison?
Boston journalist Dan Kennedy, a long-time observer of the media and politics in the Hub, paints a picture which is as simplistic as it is plausible. "The mayor strikes me as a very hard working guy and intelligent; and there are no alternatives power basis (to oppose him)," said Kennedy. "The city council just seems so diminished now, no one takes them seriously; and there's no elected school committee and none of the elected legislators take interest in it."
Kudos to my distant cousin, Dan. The WMD in Menino's political arsenal is that he has one and the other city politicians don't. Mayoral powers in Boston are on par with those of Czar Nicholas. The city council has all the prestige and political cache of an imperial Duma. For a less royalist analogy of the approaching mayoral race dynamics, bring to mind all those John Wayne westerns where the Duke was the only guy who could really shoot. That's Menino, and wealthy Bostonians with fat check book recognize that he's the only sheriff in town and that giving him money will pay back handsome dividends in approved development permits, city contracts and only God knows what else.
As for the members of the Duma - which is to say the Boston City Council - atleast one of the more prominent members appears to be undaunted by the Czar's powers, which are sure to be enhanced now that Menino has directed his lieutenants to plan atleast twenty five more fundraisers between now and Christmas.
Though admittedly a perspective candidate himself, who believes Bostonians are "looking for another big mayor's race in the city," front bencher City Councilor John Tobin is hardly reticent to acknowledge the mayor's prowess, which may not often project at the podium - but does at other venues. "It's almost magical how he does it," said the district city councilor from Jamaica Plain. "Menino deftly walks that balance between the high rollers and the regular 'Joes' you meet in the coffee shops."
Tobin said the mayor is something of a political hybrid; a public combination of the particular strengths showcased by two of his predecessors, Kevin White and Ray Flynn. Menino appears to emulate White's finesse with the business community, while not faulting as White did in the area of neighborhood services. He also practices Flynn's populist brand of politics, which was to champion neighborhood rights even when they conflicted with corporate wants.
Meanwhile, back at the palace, Menino's savvy ness, however non verbal, is rearing it's head. The mayor knows of one city councilor who, though politically impotent on that body politic, nonetheless has the ability to be financially competitive in a mayoral contest. As such, the worst kept secret in Boston today, confirmed for me this week by two city councilors, is that at-large City Councilor Mike Flaherty is close to a deal whereby Menino will back Flaherty in his bid for district attorney, thus keeping the popular councilor out of the mayor's race. This plot thickens as tongues wag that Menino, a long time supporter of the incumbent D.A. Dan Conley (the two were once neighbors in Hyde Park), will lobby Governor Patrick to find a refuge for Conley; which is to say a judgeship. The technical term for all this political intrigue is B.O.O. - buying off opponents.
Given the ongoing political migraines of Conley (the police and detectives unions have voted no confidence in his leadership and called for his resignation), Flaherty's weight as an opponent backed by the legendary Menino machine should make the councilor from Southie the 800 pound guerilla for a post he's coveted since D.A. Ralph Martin resigned for the private sector in 2002. Conley may well be scared out of the race, just as Menino is trying to intimidate potential opponents with his recent fundraising blitz.
But though its Halloween week, I don't see everyone getting scared. Tobin's correct. You can feel the electorates' anxiety and anticipate the hospitable welcome they would give a real, mayor's race; something we haven't had in this city since 1983. My radar screen says candidates are lurking beyond the horizon, sophisticated enough to comprehend that Menino's hard work ethic not withstanding, there's growing Menino fatigue in Boston.
Another savvy politician could take advantage of this sentiment and give Menino a run for his money - and he's got plenty of it.