Connolly upped the ante with his stealth freezer raid, followed by announcements of the findings at a Council meeting, and contentious hearings that he led as chair of the Education Committee.

The backlash from the administration has been sharp, according to several City Hall insiders, and included an apparent city-employee boycott of Connolly events in Charlestown and Dorchester, which some say was directed from the mayor's office in retaliation. One Michael Flaherty sympathizer says the fallout has been worse than anything Flaherty was subjected to.

The idea, according to one veteran City Hall watcher, was to send a signal not only to Connolly but to all Boston pols: Don't start posturing for 2013. Others, though, say it may have been more about Connolly embarrassing the administration.

  Either way, the effect may be to tamp down the independent streak that seemed to be building in the City Council and elsewhere, when people thought Menino was in his final term.

That independence could be seen in Councilor Mike Ross's attention-getting initiatives of the past two years, and in his open resistance to Menino's plans to close libraries and community centers, which has come from city councilors and state legislators alike.

Those pols have also begun clashing with one another, as they start behaving more like potential 2013 adversaries. Several people say they overheard Connolly and Felix Arroyo in a loud yelling match in the Curley Room just outside the Council chambers a few months ago. Others say Ross has taken umbrage with some of Connolly's posturing — and that some councilors have had the same response to Ross's.

In other words, the mice were playing — so the cat had to make clear he was back on the scene. City Hall insiders say that, in the past few weeks, Menino has been calling councilors and department heads to express annoyance or to check the progress on some project.

That's all typical Menino — and a big reason the city runs as smoothly as it does. But "that kind of thing wasn't happening before" in this term, says one City Hall staffer.


MAYOR FOR LIFE

Here's my theory. I think Menino doesn't want to go through a tough, year-long campaign again. He (and Angela) may not be sure he can do it again, this time over the age of 70, without the strain showing.

But an easy re-elect, he could do. If it's shaping up to be a 2005-style coasting (no offense to Maura Hennigan), he'd do it.

So, he'll spend the next two years trying to scare away (or cut off at the knees) any serious competition, while solidifying his aura of electoral invincibility. If all goes well, he'll get his easy campaign and announce that he's running. If a credible foe takes him on anyway, he'll announce that he's not running.

That may be the plan — he may very well intend, now, to walk away gracefully. But when the time comes, I don't think Menino will be able to. He won't be able to help himself.

He'll get juiced by the challenge. He'll decide that he has to save Boston from the inadequate would-be successor. He'll feel a need to protect his loyalists from losing their jobs under a new administration. He'll dread the prospect of becoming a marginalized, irrelevant figure like Ray Flynn has. He'll find it hard to imagine what he would do with himself in retirement.

In short, Menino will convince himself to run again. And he'll win.

To read the "Talking Politics" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein@phx.com.

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