In Defense of Mayor Menino

This past Thursday, Boston Mayor-For-Life Thomas Menino walked back his threat to prevent Chick-fil-A from obtaining a license to do business at a location alongside the Freedom Trail near Faneuil Hall (or anywhere else in Boston, for that matter). Menino had previously, in response to Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s vocal opposition to gay marriage, written a letter to Cathy expressing his outrage at Cathy’s pro-traditional marriage position, saying he would do “everything I can to stop them” from opening shop in Boston. After days of wild jeering from both the left and the right (the right claiming that Menino had no authority to undermine Chick-fil-A’s right to do business in Boston), Menino conceded, saying: “I can’t do that. That would be interference to his rights to go there…I make mistakes all the time. That’s a Menino-ism.”

On Friday Menino further “clarified” his remarks saying that he could not (and never had intention to) interfere with any legitimate enterprise obtaining the requisite permits to do business and that what he meant was that “we would do everything we can, bully pulpit-wise.”

If I were in charge of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts, I don’t think I’d let Mayor Menino near the bully pulpit. On his most recent pronouncement before this one (bully pulpit-wise) the Mayor suggested that grand theft auto was, as far as he was concerned, a rather flimsy excuse for deporting illegal aliens back to their home countries. And (to mention another more serious incident) the Mayor recently cited [John] “Hondo” [Havlicek] for his outstanding contributions to the successes of the 2012 Celtics. That’s not the kind of mistake you want to make in a city like Boston, sports-wise, that is.

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In this case (i.e. the Chick-fil-A Menino-ism), however, I think we should cut Mayor Menino some slack. In the first place, Menino has unreservedly recanted in the face of pressure from the opposition when he could have waffled and just, well, mumbled something. Instead, the principle at stake was Chick-fil-A’s right to equal treatment, license-wise, irrespective of the political opinions of its CEO. Menino affirmed that. Second, Menino has every right to his opinions and his expression thereof on gay rights or any other matter of debate in the public arena.

Finally, the Mayor has run the city of Boston longer than any mayor in history. And he has not been re-elected four times on account of his forays into left wing talking points. Rather, he has succeeded by his ability to satisfy his constituencies, to keep Boston reasonably safe and free from graft, and by not stomping on his opposition – at least not gratuitously.

It is often said that the role of the “Big Boss Mayor,” a la Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley, is a throwback to the past. If so it is a throwback to the distant past. Indeed, you have to throw as far as the Middle Ages and the times of the great independent city states (or even further) to find the spiritual ancestors of Mayors like Thomas Menino. In many ways, running a great city like Boston – or like Florence in 1425 – is the pinnacle of local politics. A great city is about as large an entity as possible to administer while still being, to some degree, in touch with your whole constituency. Far from being a relic of the past, being a Big Boss Mayor is not only a 21st Century job description, but the best mayors must, in some sense, be big bosses.

Some of the things that Menino, and Richard J. Daley and the successful among their ilk have had in common are: (1) a lot of common sense, (2) an attention to detail, (3) a concern for all fellow city dwellers, not only your supporters, and finally (and here is the clue for you all) (4) a healthy disdain for abstract ideology. For all the frustration Menino may cause Boston Republicans, he does not have the condescending snottiness of the Patrick-Warren-Frank Axis of Virtue. If, on gay rights, for example, you beg to differ with the Axis of Virtue, they dismiss you as they would an ignorant child. If you disagree with Menino, he threatens to punch you in the face. At least that shows respect.

I find it a little surprising, in fact, that Menino chooses to mount the bully pulpit at all. When he does, he mostly seems to get into trouble with his Menino-isms and he doesn’t appear to accomplish much. Menino is at his best when he is juggling the interest groups of this great city and frankly (I may get excommunicated for this) I wouldn’t particularly wish the job on a fellow Republican. Some jobs are, amazing though it seems, better for Democrats.

So, keep working on the neighborhoods, Thomas Michael, and leave the virtue to your fellow Mass Democrats. They’ve got lots of it.

They say that Deval Patrick is a fine fellow to sit down and have a beer with. I don’t see it. I think the velvet touch would start to creep me out before I’d finished my first Sam Adams. Possibly Barney Frank would be entertaining enough to gab with as long as you keep your glass covered. And what could be more mind-erasing than trying to unwind after a long day by throwing a couple of brews back with a wound-up manic zealot like Elizabeth Warren?

But Menino? I am convinced that (as long as I wasn’t on his enemies list) he would be charming and gracious. For the record, I agree with Dan Cathy on this one (gay marriage-wise). But Menino apologized without quibbling and I say let’s forgive him and move on. He said “I make mistakes all the time.” Those are the words of a man of integrity.

Let’s let it go. I mean, it’s not like he did something really unforgivable like crediting the Patriot’s game-winning field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI to Jason Varitek.

What? Oh.

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