Menino’s Greatest Hits…And Misses
Like any mayor, Menino has had his policy ups and downs. Here, a look at the best and worst of his time in office.
1. Financial Stability
Pension liabilities? Not a problem. Debt? Looking good. Budget deficit? Never. Menino has ended 20 straight years with an operating surplus, spurring Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s to boost Boston’s bond rating a combined nine times over the past two decades. How’d he do it? By keeping staffing levels reasonable, borrowing responsibly, and consistently refusing the urge to splurge.
2. The Seaport
We waited. And waited. But Menino has overseen the transformation of this old industrial waterfront into a destination for diners, tourists, entrepreneurs, and contemporary-art connoisseurs alike.
Menino is famously a technophobe, yet his City Hall has become one of the most cutting edge in the nation. And his Office of New Urban Mechanics is designing 21st-century solutions—like Citizens Connect, the smartphone app that lets you report, say, a pothole by snapping a picture of it—for the types of old-fashioned problems he’s famous for obsessing over.
4. Appointed School Board
Until 1992, the year before Menino took office, the Boston School Committee was elected—leading to conflict and political demagoguery by the likes of the anti-busing leader Louise Day Hicks. Early in his tenure, Menino championed an appointed school board, taking ownership of the system and removing the divisive politics from it. In his second State of the City address, he proclaimed, “Judge me by these schools.”
Three times between 1999 and 2006, Bicycling magazine ranked Boston as one of the country’s worst biking cities. In 2007 Menino appointed a “bike czar,” and in 2009 he declared, “The car is no longer the king in Boston.” Today, the city is striped with 120 miles of cycling paths and packed with some 1,000 Hubway bike-share cycles. What was once unthinkable—bike racks and lanes replacing parking spaces—is now the norm.
1. The Filene’s Hole
Menino is often accused of playing favorites with developers—which appears to be what happened in 2007 when the Boston Redevelopment Authority fast-tracked a $700 million proposal to build a 39-story tower at the Filene’s site in Downtown Crossing. The economy then cratered, the financing fell through, and the development stalled. Menino’s payoff? A big hole that, six years later, is only now starting to get filled.
2. A New Fenway Park
This loss for Menino was a win for the Fenway faithful. Menino spent more than a year negotiating with Red Sox ownership and state officials on a deal to provide public money to help build a new ballpark, not far from the current one. Luckily, the city council blocked the deal and, after impressive renovations to Fenway by the team’s new owners, the idea of replacing the storied ballpark became laughable.
3. We’re Still No Fun
The restaurants close early. The bars close early. The T stops running early. And God help you if you want to apply for a liquor or entertainment license. While Boston’s young population has exploded, Menino has largely focused on the concerns of his reliable base of older voters.
4. The Fire Department
When it was determined in 2007 that two firefighters killed in the line of duty had drugs in their system, it set off another epic feud between Menino and the firefighters union. It took three years before Menino could hammer out a deal to institute the drug testing he wanted, and even today, the insular culture of the BFD seems beyond his control: Following the marathon bombings, firefighters ousted a chief whom Menino had brought in from the outside to raise BFD practices to national standards.
About that “Judge me by these schools” thing. While student performance has improved, Menino has resisted reform, failed to win longer school days from the Boston Teachers Union, and dragged his feet on creative ways to get Boston students achieving more.
For more of our look back at Mayor Menino’s time in office, check out “A Mayor in Full.”