Tom Menino, Boston's 'Urban Mechanic' Mayor, Will Not Run for Re-Election

After five terms, the city's longest-serving mayor will leave office at the end of the year.

David Kidd
After five terms, Boston's longest-serving mayor -- and the longest-serving mayor currently in office in any major U.S. city -- has decided not to seek a sixth term and will leave at the end of the year. Tom Menino has run his city with a steady hand for two decades, and while never considered a visionary, he has changed Boston by being an "urban fixer," as one city official described him. Or, as Menino once put it, by focusing on "the fundamentals of urban life."

Menino was once derided as nothing more than an "urban mechanic, a guy too focused on tinkering and retooling to provide the city with any real direction," wrote Governing's Zach Patton in a detailed profile of Menino last year. "As it turns out, that approach has proven marvelously effective."

In an appraisal of his work, The Boston Globe pointed out that "through countless disparate acts, a new city emerged, one with a notably different look and an attitude less burdened by the darker chapters of its past."

Those darker chapters included racial divisions that exploded in the 1970s and a range of urban policy experiments that seemed to leave the city adrift. When Menino was elected to office in 1993, he moved the city beyond the parochial politics of its past and turned Boston into a magnet for new, innovative businesses. He's built up its emerging reputation as a city that supports gay, minority and immigrant communities.

Menino managed the city well during the recession, avoiding the kind of large-scale layoffs so many other cities had to resort to in order to keep fiscally afloat. Where Menino stumbled was in trying to improve Boston's public school system, particularly its static graduation rate and racial achievement gaps.

It remains to be seen who will succeed Menino -- at least a dozen names have been floated as possibilities. Menino has said he will not anoint a successor, according to the Boston Herald. But there's speculation the Mayor's aides may become active in endorsing a candidate.

Whoever takes over will be in charge of a city that epitomizes today's modern urban environment as an engine for a new economy and as a safe and desirable place to live. As Patton pointed out in his profile of Menino, "Boston is humming with energy that may be unmatched anywhere else in the country right now. It's only one of a handful of places in the country to have more private-sector jobs now than five years ago." The city also has the nation's highest ratio of 20- to 35-year-olds. Last year, The Atlantic
ranked Boston the sixth most economically powerful city in the world, ahead of Hong Kong, Beijing, Sydney and others.

Achieving those high marks wasn't easy. It took hard work and an understanding of what makes a city tick. Here's how the Globe described Menino's approach to steering Boston towards growth:

Menino's redevelopment authority rarely advocated for dramatic alterations to the city's landscape or revolutionary designs, but it wasn't hostile to change, either. Menino understood much better than the leaders of many smaller Massachusetts cities and towns the benefits of expanding the housing market and improving transportation.
The result is an exciting Boston, where people and companies want to come, not leave. A nice legacy indeed.

Elizabeth Daigneau is GOVERNING's managing editor.