"I'm here with the people I love to tell the city I love that I will leave the job that I love. I will leave the city I love," Menino said. Every member of the crowd stood in thunderous applause. As the clapping subsided, I sped out the door to drive to the debate, knowing full well that the job I had just taken covering City Hall had now drastically changed. (Just days before, I had been introduced to Menino by the Globe's city hall ace Andrew Ryan, when we spotted him getting into his black SUV near the rear entrance he had for years used to come and go. "Come ovah here," he motioned to me, before gasping in disbelief when I told him that, no, I had not attended college in Boston.)
Menino was exactly the mayor Boston deserved. The small town that is convinced it is a big, "world class city among world class cities" (as Menino would say), was for two decades led by its biggest booster. Bostonians have an arrogance bred of insecurity, a middle- or youngest-child syndrome, and Menino was this underdog city's biggest fan. That's because he was always an underdog — a neighborhood-centric city councilor who ascended to the mayor's office in 1993 when then-Mayor Ray Flynn was appointed by President Bill Clinton to become ambassador to the Vatican. Many questioned whether Menino would seek reelection later that year. Fewer thought he could win. And no one would have ever predicted that he would win four more times — to eventually become as much a part of the city's identity as the Red Sox or the Boston Tea Party.
He was never more Menino than in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Menino had announced a month before the marathon that he would not seek reelection. And, as the runners competed, he lay in a hospital bed at Brigham Women and Children's Hospital after a surgery to repair a broken leg, the latest in a series of serious and at-times long-term hospitalizations during his time in office. He checked himself out of the hospital — the same hospital where he died Thursday — several times throughout the week to attend briefings and help oversee the massive manhunt for the bombing suspects. He appeared, seated in a wheelchair, at the city's daily news conferences and insisted that the city would press on.
At the memorial service for the victims, the mayor was wheeled to the podium by his son, a Boston police detective who had been working at the marathon finish line. Then, Menino lifted himself from his wheelchair in a moment of triumph symbolic of the city's resurgence following the attacks. "We are one Boston,” Menino declared during his speech. “No adversity, no challenge, nothing can tear down the resilience in the heart of this city and its people.”
Menino gradually receded from the public eye after that service, but there was one last moment in his final days in office that stands out to me. It was the first weekend of December, and Menino embarked on his final "tree lighting tour," a trolley parade through the city in which he and a crew of elves traveled to each Boston neighborhood to light a massive Christmas tree and show off the Red Sox's 2013 World Series trophy. (Of course.)
Working my usual Saturday shift, I met up with Menino in Jamaica Plain, about halfway through the tour, and watched him playfully introduce Santa to a crowd of elementary schoolchildren. "Slow down, don't push. You'll all get to meet Santa!" the mayor assured them.
When that stop was over, the mayor glanced up at me."You gettin on that buhs?" he asked, motioning at me with his cane — fashioned from a Red Sox World Series bat. "Come on, have some soup." As I boarded Menino's trolley, I noticed how packed it was. There was Dot Joyce, his longtime spokeswoman, and several of his grandchildren. Also on the bus were several longtime aides, many of whom were long retired. Everyone knew this would be Menino's last trolley tour as mayor. Sipping pumpkin soup, Menino couldn't help but boast. That new apartment complex? His people had helped ensure the housing would be affordable. These new businesses? None of them were here when he first took office. And look how clean the streets are! And that building there, he said, pointing to Brigham Women's and Childrens, that's where he'd been nursed back to health time and time again. "The best medical professionals in the world," he declared proudly.
Before I hopped off the trolley, Menino promised that, once he got out of office, he'd pick me up at my apartment some day and give me a driving tour of the city — so I could see the "real Boston," he insisted. I wish I had taken him up on it. “This is about the people; it’s about the neighborhoods,” Menino said in my last one-on-one conversation with him, as he rode the trolley between stops. “I just love seeing the city so happy.”
(In case you are wondering, I didn't make the Markey-Lynch debate at all. My car broke down somewhere in central Massachusetts.)