At a recent political event, Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino asked Robert Crane, the former longtime state treasurer, how many years he had held that office. When Crane said 26, Menino gave a thoughtful look, nodded, and said, “That sounds like the right amount.”
If the gov doesn’t fit
Patrick and Menino never have been on the same page — Menino aggressively backed Tom Reilly for governor, and some sources say Patrick and the mayor rarely talk. (Patrick inner-circle member Doug Rubin is said to still be bitter from Menino’s 2001 campaign against Peggy Davis-Mullin, for whom Rubin worked.)
Could Patrick, behind the scenes, orchestrate or play an assisting role in a challenge to Menino? The reward — a grateful ally running Boston — would be great, but the risks are high. A failed attempt would leave a furious mayor, and the image of a meddling governor.
A witness to the exchange relates it to make a point about the futility of predicting Menino’s successor: the mayor is so entrenched in his current post that, if he wants to run again, and again, and again, speculation about who will follow him becomes that much harder. For all we know, Boston’s first post-Menino mayor might still be in college.
Menino has been mayor since 1993, and the fact is that almost everyone in the city expects that he will run for — and win — an unprecedented fifth term in office in November 2009, surpassing Kevin White as the longest-serving leader in Boston city history.
Although they won’t say it on the record, for fear of Menino’s legendary vindictiveness, many city political insiders believe it’s time for regime change at City Hall. Menino, some say, was a great mayor for the 1990s, but fresh blood is needed to guide the city into the 21st century.
“Tom Menino has taken the city as far as he can go,” says one Democratic operative. “He’s Curt Schilling in the eighth inning.”
And yet, that same observer doesn’t see potential replacements who inspire confidence — everyone knows you don’t change pitchers when the bullpen looks shaky. Surveying the local political talent, this person concludes, “I’m not seeing any Jonathan Papelbons.”
Perhaps. But, as one elected official points out, sometimes the insiders don’t recognize a political star until after it rises. “It could be another version of Deval Patrick, or what Sam Yoon did in 2005,” says that veteran Boston pol. “They announce, and get snickers, but then light a fire and run with it.”
Vanquishing his enemies
Menino turns 65 on December 27 and, if re-elected in 2009, would be 71 by the end of another four-year term. Only three mayors of the 50 biggest US cities are older than that. Menino also has Crohn’s disease.
Then again, 70 might be the new 50 in Massachusetts politics. Sal DiMasi, 62, recently expressed his intention to be Speaker of the House for “a long, long, long, long, long, long time,” as reported by State House News Service. If Sal can reign into his 70s, why not Tommy?
Of course, Menino might choose not to run for re-election. He could leave to take a position offered by, say, President Hillary Clinton. He could even be beaten at the ballot box, depending on conditions of the city, his health, or perhaps scandal in his administration. “Two years is an eternity in politics,” says one local official, noting how even a popular, powerful politician’s fortunes can eventually change.
But as of this moment, the nearly 20 city political observers and insiders who spoke recently to the Phoenix all agree that Menino intends to run for re-election. The evidence can be found in his recent aggressive fundraising, which, sources say, includes unusual personal calls from the mayor.
Sources also say that Menino’s people — particularly former chief of staff David Passafaro — are warning off anyone who provides aid and comfort to a potential rival. Those who contribute to a rumored mayoral candidate’s campaign committee, or who make introductions at ward committee meetings for a rumored candidate, these sources say, receive a reproachful call from Passafaro.
Fear of angering the city’s boss prevents many potential candidates from running. “You can forget about getting any city services for your constituents for the next 18 months,” says one veteran political insider.
But Menino is not merely a bully. He’s also a shrewd politician who just as often heads off potential rivals by co-opting them — by placing Peter Meade on important boards, or finding partners for Chris Gabrieli’s after-school foundation, for instance — as by scaring them, one former City Hall insider says.
He also runs the city well enough, as even his detractors concede, that no major problem rises to the level at which it causes broad dissatisfaction. Plus, nobody keeps up with Menino’s incredible pace of personal appearances, at events and meetings in every neighborhood in the city.