Boston And New England Well-Earned Success: The Mayor Of Boston Takes A Bow

Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews theHon. Thomas M. Menino, Mayor of Boston.

Editor: Mayor Menino, would you tell our readers something about your professional background?

Menino: I started in the Boston Redevelopment Authority in the early 1970s. In the mid-'70s I was elected to the State Legislature, and, in 1983, I was elected to the City Council. I served on the City Council until 1993 when - as President of the Council and as a consequence of Mayor Flynn having been named Ambassador to the Vatican - I was made Acting Mayor of the City of Boston. In September of that year, I was elected to my own term of office, and at the present time I am in my 11th year as mayor. My present term is up this fall, and I will have to make a decision on running for reelection.

Editor: Would you share with us some of the factors that went into your decision to run for the mayoralty in 1993?

Menino: First of all I was Acting Mayor at the time, so I did have something of an inside track on the position and its responsibilities. During the 1993 campaign there was a point when I was running seventh in the polls. I had to do a lot of hard work, and that effort had a great deal to do with my belief that it was possible - through hard work - to make a difference.

Editor: Your electoral success has been extraordinary: you won your first term with 64% of the vote; your second without opposition; and your third with a landslide victory. Obviously, this did not just happen. What are your thoughts about the reasons for this success?

Menino: My administration has worked hard for the people of Boston. I think we project a very strong message that we are for the people. For example, when I became mayor we had a number of schools that were failing. I knew that we had to do something for those children because, if we did not, they might not get another chance. I made schools one of my administration's priorities, and to date we have not lost any schools. Today, kids in the Boston school system score higher in standardized tests than the urban average in Massachusetts and, in fact, better than some of the suburban school districts. Many of them now go on to college.

In the area of affordable housing we have done a great deal, and we also take pride in the decrease of violence in the city's streets. We had 64 homicides last year, while cities of comparable size experienced 200 to 300. Of course, even one homicide is too many. We have worked hard on this issue.

The revitalization of small business is another area that is extremely important to our administration. We have some 19 programs underway here, and it is at the heart of what we are trying to do in our city's neighborhoods. A small business community that is vibrant is an essential ingredient to strong and prosperous neighborhoods. The same is true of the connection between green space and parks, on the one hand, and neighborhoods on the other. Boston has some of the finest parks of any major city in the country.

I believe that it is important for us to carry these programs forward - programs that service the people - notwithstanding the budget cuts we have experienced in recent years.

Editor: Would you say something about your healthcare initiatives?

Menino: We have had several health care initiatives. The Boston Medical Center, which is one of the leading hospitals in the area, is the result of a merger between a public medical center and a private, and was one of our healthcare initiatives. On a personal note, a few years ago I had a bout with cancer and started a campaign for early detection. We are the first city in the country to get people time off from work so that they can be screened for cancer. I am extremely interested in bringing together the healthcare providers in this area to discuss, and prioritize, what needs to be addressed in healthcare.

Editor: You have mentioned the high points, I am sure there have been challenges.

Menino: It is no surprise that many of the challenges have been financial. The services we provide to the city's residents are substantial, and they cost a great deal of money. Over the years, however, the funding that both the federal government and the state provide the city has declined. Maintaining the quality of those services in the face of a decrease in federal and state support has been extremely difficult.

A particularly difficult moment occurred when the Boston police raided the wrong apartment and killed an innocent man, a minister no less. We were honest with the community, and we attempted to face up to our responsibilities. That is really the only way to deal with such a situation. At the funeral service the wife of the man who had lost his life asked me to sit next to her. I knew then that we had done the right thing in being forthright. It was, nevertheless, a terrible time for this woman and her family, for me and for Boston.

Editor: Would you tell us about your administration's relations with the Boston business community?

Menino: We are partners. I have had a great relationship with the business community, and we have worked closely on many of the initiatives that my administration has launched. When Boston hosted the Democratic National Convention last summer, the Boston business community was very helpful in our efforts to raise funding for the event. They have also been extremely important in our educational undertakings, particularly in providing jobs for students in the Boston schools. All in all, this is a very positive relationship.

Editor: In the competition for new investment, what do you say to corporations considering Boston?

Menino: In addition to being a great place to live and work, Boston has an extraordinary workforce. From healthcare, life sciences and the financial services sector, from high technology to every conceivable area of manufacturing, Boston has an educated, highly motivated and highly skilled workforce that any employer would be grateful to have. This is not a one-industry town, and the talents and skills that our people bring to the workplace are a real reflection of its economic diversity.

Editor: Given that diversity, I take it that the technology bust did not affect Boston the way it affected other cities.

Menino: No. Boston has played a leading role in a variety of high tech industries, however, and when the bubble burst we were affected, but not like other cities. The pattern here has been one where some sectors of the economy continue to do well when others are down. There have been times, for instance, when financial services have suffered, but life sciences have done extremely well. We have just opened a new convention center because we have every indication of a renewed interest in Boston as a convention destination, and this seems to be a very different experience from that of other cities. At the same time, we are working hard to keep small commercial and industrial enterprises going in Boston. Not only do these small businesses employ a great many people, they add immensely to the diversity of the products and services that we offer the world.

Editor: You mentioned the Democratic National Convention. What did having it in Boston in the summer of 2004 mean to the city?

Menino: The convention put Boston on the map for a great many people.We took surveys during the convention, and 95 percent of the people who attended said that they would come back. They rated Boston as the best city out of the last three that have hosted the Democratic National Convention. It was an event that put our city into the spotlight, and I think it is fair to say that we measured up in every way. We did not make a great deal of money out of it, but as a long-term investment in the city's future the 2004 Democratic National Convention was a great thing for Boston.

Editor: Boston has been an important center for the legal community for many years. Can you give us your thoughts about the contributions that lawyers and law firms make to the city?

Menino: The Boston Bar Association has made a tremendous contribution to the city, and, of course, the Association is acting on behalf of the legal community. Six years ago the Association started a summer job program in which each law firm in town takes one or two students to work as summer interns. This is a tremendous opportunity for young people to rub elbows with Boston's lawyers, and it serves to channel them in a very positive way.

In addition, the law firms provide enormous help to the Boston community through their pro bono work and through their efforts to provide legal services to non-profit organizations, most of which cannot afford professional accounting or legal help.

Editor: And the future? At some point you will hand over the mayoralty to someone else. When that occurs, what do you hope to have accomplished?

Menino: I would hope that people will remember me as having done a good job working for all the people of Boston, rich and poor. I would also hope that some of the initiatives that have been started by my administration would have enough momentum to continue to grow. Certainly the educational initiatives are very important. At the same time, it is worth noting that working people are the ones who pay the bills. I would hope that some of my initiatives directed at them - particularly those in support of small businesses - would have helped them stay in the city and enabled them to make a contribution. For me, that is what is necessary to maintain the city's quality.

Editor: Any thoughts about what the success of the Red Sox and the Patriots have meant to the city?

Menino: Their success has helped the people of Boston feel good about themselves and about their city. It has been a wonderful privilege for me to have served as the Mayor of Boston at a time of such success.