Adam Chandler is a former staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom.
The longest-serving mayor of Boston died at age 71 on Thursday.
Tom Menino, the longest-serving mayor of Boston, died on Thursday following a battle with cancer. He was 71. Described often as the steward of Boston's renaissance, Menino has been honored for turning "The Hub" into a world-class city. Despite these lofty pursuits, Menino also maintained a lifelong connection to the Hyde Park neighborhood where he was born and lived his entire life.
The Globe's Kevin Cullen took a pilgrimage to the neighborhood after news of Menino's death broke:
Most of the people I talked to in Hyde Park are immigrants. They aren’t from Hyde Park. They are Hyde Park. They were exactly the people Tom Menino identified with, those who some might judge for the way they look or the way they talked. Tom Menino didn’t dress like Tom Brady. He didn’t talk like Tom Brokaw.
Menino's decades-long run at Boston City Hall ended earlier this year just months after he announced that he wouldn't seek a sixth term in office. Of his five terms and 20 years in office, Richard Weir wrote:
The city’s fiscal footing strengthened; racial tensions ebbed; Beantown became Greentown and a wounded city rallied after the Boston Marathon bombings shook its soul.
Earlier this year, James Fallows placed Menino in rather rarefied company, illustrating his tenure in Boston as an example of how cities flourish in spite of partisan congestion in Washington, D.C.:
During the eras of Michael Bloomberg in New York, Thomas Menino in Boston, and Richard Daley and now Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, everyone has recognized the power of major-city mayors to announce big plans and to carry them out, for better or worse. Illustrations of the better, from my personal perspective: Bloomberg’s insistence that restaurant menus show calorie counts, Menino’s development of Boston’s waterfront and new industrial zones.
Elsewhere, others weighed in with tributes to Menino's legacy:
Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Tom Menino. Bold, big-hearted, and Boston strong, Tom was the embodiment of the city he loved and led for more than two decades. As Boston’s longest-serving mayor, Tom helped make his hometown the vibrant, welcoming, world-class place it is today. His legacy lives on in every neighborhood he helped revitalize, every school he helped turn around, and every community he helped make a safer, better place to live. I had a chance to speak with Tom’s wife, Angela, yesterday, and today our thoughts and prayers are with her, with the entire Menino family, and with the people of Boston who Tom loved so much, and who loved him in return.
— President Obama
As a city councilor in the late 1980’s, he worked to support HIV education and prevention efforts, and he instituted the first needle exchange program in the state. As mayor, he fought for – and won — a municipal ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity. He refused to walk in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade because the LGBTQ community wasn’t welcome. He wrote to the anti-marriage President of Chik-Fil-A, who was considering opening a restaurant in Boston, to tell him that discrimination was not welcome on Boston’s ‘Freedom Trail.’ One of the earliest supporters of marriage equality, he lobbied the State House in support of the freedom to marry. And on May 17, 2004, the first day that same-sex couples could marry in Massachusetts, Mayor Menino personally welcomed couples at Boston City Hall and made sure they were shielded from protesters.
—K.C. Coredini, Executive Director, MassEquality
Dan Shaughnessy remembered Menino's leadership following the Boston Marathon bombing:
Menino came up big in our city’s moments of crisis after the Boston Marathon bombings. Mr. Mayor was at Brigham & Women’s Hospital with a broken leg when the tragedy unfolded, but he vaulted out of bed and got in front of the effort to make our city safe again.
He also remarked on Menino's penchant for public speaking gaffes:
His local sports malaprops are legendary. Mr. Mayor had “Varitek splitting the uprights,’’ and spoke of “Wes Wekler, Jim Lomberg, Donald Sterns, Vince Wilcock, Gonk, and KJ and Hondo (Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo).’’ He was always a good sport about it, even when ESPN featured him bollixing names of Hub sports heroes.
Nevertheless, Menino's idiosyncrasies seemed to endear him to his constituents, who elected him in landslide after landslide. Boston native Steven Sobel adds:
Massachusetts politicians are funny. They are always unabashedly looking for their next stepping stone and the most common sentiment among voters is that those in power in the state are phony. There wasn't much that was phony about Tom Menino. He loved people, loved his job and to him being mayor was more of a lifestyle than a job.
This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.