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City mourns passing of longest-serving mayor

Former Mayor Thomas M. Menino dead at 71

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City mourns passing of longest-serving mayor
In this 2009 photo Mayor Thomas M. Menino (center) talks to students at English High School in Jamaica Plain while Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carol R. Johnson (left) and City Councilor Chuck Turner look on. Students at English High and Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury were working through the first year of a pilot program aimed at introducing a civics curriculum into eighth-grade classes throughout the Boston Public Schools system. (Photo: Yawu Miller)

Boston’s longest-ever mayoral administration — one ushered Boston into the 21st century – ended in January when Mayor Thomas Menino stepped down as mayor. The Menino era drew to a close today with the former mayor’s death, barely a week after he announced he was suspending chemotherapy treatments for the cancer he was battling.

Civic leaders, elected officials past and present and scores of former city workers who cut their teeth under the Menino administration expressed sadness at the passing of the self-described urban mechanic, who obsessed over the details of city government like no mayor before.

“Boston has lost a political giant, and Diane and I have lost a friend,” said Gov. Deval Patrick in a statement to the media. “Our hearts and prayers go out to Angela and the whole Menino family. And we thank God for the service and the life of Tom Menino.”

From the beginning of his mayoral administration, Menino’s political fortunes were inextricably linked with Boston’s black community. It was the late Anthony Crayton, Former District 7 City Councilor, who in 1993 cast the swing vote that clinched the City Council presidency for Menino, paving the way for him to become acting mayor when then-Mayor Raymond Flynn left to become ambassador to the Vatican.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the longest serving mayor in Boston history, told a packed crowd at Faneuil Hall last March that he would not seek re-election.

In Menino’s mayoral campaign that year, it was a combination of black, Latino and liberal white voters in the center of the city that put him in office — not the traditional voter-rich strongholds of South Boston, West Roxbury and Charlestown. Menino had a sometimes rocky relationship with many of the city’s black elected officials serving in the City Council and State House, but he could consistently rely on super-high support from black voters every four years, often earning more than 80 percent of the black vote.

One way Menino earned that popularity was by simply showing up. He was ubiquitous at community events, held walk-throughs in neighborhood business districts and attended to each Boston neighborhood’s physical needs with an obsessive eye for detail. It was that focus on potholes, trash collection and snow removal that earned him the title, the Urban Mechanic.

Another way Menino gained popularity in the black community was his focus on urban redevelopment, including a campaign promise to rebuild Blue Hill Avenue between Dudley Street and Grove Hall — a promise that, by most accounts, Menino kept.

Menino also trained his administration’s attention on Dudley Square, directing millions of dollars in federal funds to projects ranging from the redevelopment of the former Boys and Girls Club to the new Boston Public Schools headquarters in the long-vacant Ferdinand’s furniture store.

Menino’s relationship with blacks wasn’t always easy. Neighborhood activists often clashed with the mayor over development projects that were seen as impositions on the community rather than the product of community-based planning. And his endorsements of candidates for office rarely matched the political aspirations blacks expressed at the ballot box.

Governor Deval Patrick enjoys a moment with former Mayor Thomas Menino at Boston University’s Institute on Cities Leading Cities Through Crisis: Lessons from the Boston Marathon Conference on the campus of Boston University.

But among the voters, elected officials and community activists there was always a deep respect for the mayor whose unrelenting attention to the minute details of city government indicated a profound love for the city of Boston and its people.

“Mayor Menino left Boston a better place after more than twenty years of dedicated service to the city he loved so much,” said state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry in a statement.” Through his passion, work ethic and huge heart, Mayor Menino exemplified what it means to be from Boston. Thank you Mayor Menino. Rest in Peace my friend.”

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