Menino Scores! (No, Really.)

Tom Menino takes his fair share of heat in Boston magazine. And how could he not? When you’ve been mayor longer than anyone else in the long history of this city, there are going to be a few missteps along the way. Accordingly, we scold Menino from time to time for his micro-managing; his occasional inability to set aside personal differences in the interest of the greater public good; his willingness to bend his own rules when it suits his agenda; and his insistence that Boston stray as little as possible from its Puritan past.

Of course, we also give the man his due. Now in his unprecedented fifth term (and with another very possibly in his plans) Menino is arguably Boston’s greatest-ever mayor. And every now and again, like today, for instance, we are reminded why.

If Menino does decide that he wants to run again when his current term ends in 2013 — and, look, assuming good health, he’s going to — the job is his for the keeping. There’s no constituency left for him to court, no vote left for him to earn. It’s all his. For as long as he wants. Forever.

So given that the mayor no longer has any need to send the message that he cares about the little guy, the news of a remarkable new city program left me to conclude (and not for the first time) that he actually does.

With the express purpose of lowering Boston’s infant mortality rate among blacks and Latinos — two to four times higher than it is among whites over the last two decades, though improving dramatically more recently — Menino has announced a pilot program that sets aside 75 free or low-cost Boston Housing Authority apartments for pregnant women who don’t have a permanent place to live. Boston’s health commission will also have an important role in the program, making visiting nurses and counselors available to the women.

Why is this such a big deal? Because as Kay Lazar writes in an excellent story in today’s Globe, recent research indicates that women who experience prolonged stress while pregnant are at a higher risk of having babies with serious health problems — including the kinds that can lead to death — and housing anxiety can be one of the biggest sources of such stress.

The pilot program is just the latest in a long line of innovative policies from our Mayor for Life. “There are a lot of housing initiatives that are linked to some sort of social services,” Laura Runnels of the National Association of County and City Health Officials told Lazar, “but this is the first time that we’ve heard of anything like this where the health department is so closely involved with the housing authority.”

It’s easy to get fixated on the faults of a leader who’s been around for just about ever. But programs like this one that are smart and humane remind us that, on the whole, Boston has been fortunate to have old Tommy Menino calling the shots.