Sunday, October 26, 2014

Review of "Mayor For A New America" by Thomas M. Menino and Jack Beatty - a Timely Memoir and Valedictory

I found this book, "Mayor For A New America," to be surprisingly inspiring and informative.  Over the years, my opinion of Mayor Thomas M. Menino has been on a steady upward trajectory.  Initially, I was bothered by his notorious inarticulate speech patterns and malapropisms.  I remember opining to many of my friends: "I cannot believe that a world class city like Boston keeps electing such an unimpressive public figure as its Mayor."  A few years ago I was a guest at a luncheon hosted by Red Sox legend David Ortiz - our beloved Big Papi.  In a moment of private conversation with Papi, I said: "I am not sure you really appreciate how popular you are in this town.  You could easily run for Mayor, and you already speak better English than our current Mayor." 

Tom Menino's actions spoke much more loudly and clearly than his verbal pronouncements.  In this valedictory memoir, co-written with Jack Beatty, who had earlier written a biography of former Boston Mayor James Michael Curley,  Menino does not shy away from addressing his reputation as "Mayor Mumbles."  He quotes his mentor, Tip O,Neill, "If you have a deficiency, hang a lantern on it."  And that is exactly what he does in this memoir, written clearly and plainly.  In telling his story, he goes back to his Italian roots, his father's work as a laborer, and his experiences growing up in the close-knit Boston neighborhood of Hyde Park.

He tells his side of the story of what things were like on the day of the Boston Marathon bombings, when he checked himself out of the hospital in order to participate in a news conference to try to salve the frayed nerves of Boston residents.  He tells the stories of the school busing crisis and Boston's richly deserved reputation for being a racist city.  He talks about how the Convention Center and the Innovation Districts were conceived and built.  He chronicles the struggle to make Boston's schools places where the next generation could learn without fear of failure or violence.

He talks glowingly of his mentors, political partners and staff and openly about his enemies.

As my time living and working in the Boston area grew, I began to notice the incremental changes and improvements appearing in neighborhoods throughout the city.  Roslindale Square is once again a thriving village.  Dudley Square has become a place where people are no longer afraid to travel.  Menino's beloved Grove Hall neighborhood of Roxbury was re-furbished, the zoo brought back up to a high standard.  He truly was "The Pothole Mayor' with meticulous attention to detail;  I also got to meet him on several occasions and experience his personal warmth and genuineness.

As I write this review, Boston has just learned that former Mayor Menino has suspended his book tour and his cancer treatments, and has returned to his home to spend time with his family.  The message seems to be that his time is short.  He brought a great deal of himself to the task of rebuilding Boston.  He deserves a rest and the thanks of a grateful city.

This book is a well written and well presented encapsulation of the Mayor and the Man.



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