The wrong stuff

These should be the best of times for Democrats. So how will they blow it in 2006? Let us count the ways
By DAN KENNEDY  |  December 29, 2005
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RIDICULOUS AND SUBLIME But which Menino will we see more of this year?As he enters his fourth — and possibly not his final — term as Boston’s mayor, Tom Menino continues to show that he can be both sublime and ridiculous.

An example of the former came recently, when he was honored at the annual Catholic Charities dinner, an occasion boycotted by Archbishop Seán O’Malley under pressure from conservative activists angered by Menino’s stances on gay marriage and abortion rights.

“What moves me about being a Christian is what Jesus taught us about being religious,” Menino said, according to press accounts. “He did not give priority to piety. He didn’t make holiness the big thing. And he did not tell us to go around talking up God, either.” An example of the latter: Menino’s announcement, as part of an anti-crime initiative, that he would push store owners to stop carrying T-shirts emblazoned with the words stop snitchin’. (The mayor later modified his stance on that.)

Menino faces enormous challenges, and elected officials in their fourth terms are rarely able to call on the same kind of talent that was available to them when they were fresh and new. In his State of the City address in January, Menino is expected to address Boston’s acute shortage of affordable housing, a hardy perennial. But the biggest crisis Menino faces is the rise in violent crime. And even though the 2000-member Boston Police Department is short by about 200 officers, there’s little evidence that the troubled force would be up to the task even if it had more resources.

But that doesn’t stop the mayor from keeping the spotlight on funding. “The federal government doesn’t care about what’s happening in the cities of America,” Menino told the Washington Post last week. “They just walked away from us.”

There’s a lot of truth in that. And the state hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with assistance, either. Which only makes it all the more imperative that the mayor demonstrate city government can solve its own problems.

One of Menino’s brightest success stories has been school superintendent Thomas Payzant, but Payzant is retiring at the end of June. Thus it’s crucial that Menino find a capable replacement.

A mixed part of the Menino legacy — the South Boston Waterfront — appears to be taking a turn for the better. The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, derided as a possible white elephant when it opened in 2004, is now doing well enough that Boston has been named the seventh-leading convention destination by Tradeshow Week magazine — the first time it’s made the top 10 in more than two decades. As hotels continue to be built in that area, the situation will only improve.

More than a dozen years into his mayoralty, Menino seems invigorated by his re-election victory this past November over city councilor Maura Hennigan. Whether that vigor can lead to new ideas, though, remains to be seen. His Honor has never been renowned for possessing much of a vision. That’s not likely to change.

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