SHREWD MOVE Will Marie St. Fleur’s new City Hall job position her as an heir to Tom Menino, or a key ally come election time?
Tom Menino, just a few months into an unprecedented fifth term as Boston’s mayor, has raised eyebrows by hiring State Representative Marie St. Fleur of Dorchester to the newly created, $120,000-a-year position of chief of advocacy and strategic investment.
The salary is one point of criticism, given the city’s dire financial position — and coming on the heels of two other new, similarly high-paying gigs, created for Judith Kurland and Justin Holmes.
City Hall observers are also curious about the vague and seemingly all-encompassing job description. St. Fleur is replacing Menino’s intergovernment-affairs chief, Michael Contompasis — who was not taking a salary along with his pension, to avoid accusations of “double dipping” — and she’s taking on additional duties ranging from education and economic development to immigration and poverty.
It sounds to some like the “deputy mayor” role that Michael Flaherty promised for his unofficial running-mate, Sam Yoon, in last year’s mayoral election. And that has some close followers of Boston politics — including some potential mayoral candidates — interpreting the move as, possibly, Menino’s attempt to anoint St. Fleur as his successor.
“Every mayor tries to leave his print in some fashion on the selection of his successor," says City Councilor John Tobin, who is considered a likely 2013 mayoral candidate. “Perhaps this is a sign that this is who he’d like to succeed him.”
Another elected official — noting Menino’s emphasis on diversity in his inaugural speech this January — suggests that he may want part of his legacy to include the championing of the city’s first black, and first female, mayor.
Of course, Menino may simply have been taking advantage of an opportunity to hire one of his closest Beacon Hill allies. A 47-year-old mother of three, St. Fleur was making only a little more than $60,000 as a state representative. And some say she had grown bored with the job — particularly since new House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whom she did not support to succeed Sal DiMasi, demoted her from a leadership position.
Still, the same elected official — who suspects Menino ultimately will run again — says that the presumption that this is the mayor’s final term is widespread in City Hall, “including people around him.” The St. Fleur hire has fed into that lame-duck theorizing.
Menino’s press secretary Dorothy Joyce dismisses the speculation, chalking it up to the wishful thinking of 2013 mayoral wannabes. “I think you’re seeing a lot of premature posturing,” says Joyce.
She also denies that Menino has greatly reduced his public schedule — or rather, has not returned to his usual pace since recovering from knee surgery this past November, which some are pointing to as evidence that Menino is no longer concerned with winning the next election.
In addition, as one close follower of Boston politics puts it, Menino’s policy decisions and chosen battles “seem to be less tied to the electoral whims, and more to his legacy.”
The St. Fleur appointment, with its wide-ranging portfolio, serves as more fodder to those reading the tea leaves. Notorious for his inability to delegate, Menino’s hiring of a virtual deputy mayor, they say, must indicate plans to transition out of the city’s operation.