Thursday, November 06, 2014

I wasn’t going to say anything, but gimme a break

As those who live in the Boston Metro are WAY MORE THAN WELL aware, Tom Menino, our former mayor, died last week.

I certainly feel plenty of sympathy for his family and friends, especially for his wife, Angela, who has now joined the club that no one wants to be a member of.  It was a cancer death, so my sympathies are especially acute.

Mayor Menino was only 71, and had just left office in January after serving as mayor for twenty years. So he didn’t get much of a retirement in, which seems to be an especially lousy thing to have happen to anybody.

So, yes, I feel plenty of sympathy.

And yet there was so much over the top-ness surrounding his passing, as much as I understand and appreciate the need for collective experiences - celebrating a World Series trophy, mourning a public figure’s dead – this one quickly began leaving me as cold as, well, you know.

I wasn’t a particular fan of Tom Menino one way or the other.

I mostly voted for him, but not the last time he ran, when I was experiencing Menino Fatigue. Plus hizzoner, while not quite keeping an Enemies List a la Richard Nixon, did maintain a shit-list that became public a few years ago. And my brother the union guy’s name appeared on that list. As it happens, I could not bring myself to pull the lever for someone who had shit-listed my brother, so he didn’t get my vote last time around.

But in many respects he was a good mayor, deft at the mechanics of fixing potholes, a supremely gifted political organizer,a man of the people who paid attention to the neighborhoods and not just downtown.

Although critics might say that he was looking for votes there – after all, he needed to replace mine – he had an excellent reputation in the minority and GLBT communities, including refusing to walk in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade when they pig-headedly decided to ban gay-identified marchers. A matter of votes, surely – more positives than negatives in standing up to parade organizer  Wacko Hurley - but also a matter of principle.

Beyond that, he was a tremendous supporter of organizations providing services to the homeless – and those homeless folks weren’t out there voting in droves. I got to see for myself that his care for the poor and homeless was something coming from Tom Menino’s heart.

But, my oh my oh my, to hear the local pundits and other assorted media folks droning on and on about Tom Menino, one would have thought that we were witnessing the passing of some amalgam of Jesus Christ, Superman, Mother Teresa,  and, why, even JFK (the old sainted JFK, before everyone realized that he was the poster boy for free love with spies and Mafia molls).

If one had just blown into town, and turned on the TV while the coverage was at its height, and one had never been to Boston before, and didn’t know anything about our town, it would have been easy enough for one to come away with the impression that:

  • Tom Menino was responsible for making Boston an academic hub. (St. Thomas of Hyde Park, pray for us.)
  • Tom Menino was responsible for turning Boston into one of the leading medical centers in the world. (St. Thomas Menino, pray for us.)
  • Tom Menino was responsible for turning Boston into a bio-tech mecca. (St. Tommy of Roslindale, pray for us.)
  • Tom Menino was responsible for all the outdoor cafes in Boston. (St. Thomas of City Hall, pray for us.)
  • Tom Menino was responsible for making Boston a world class city. (Hizzoner the Politico, pray for us.)
  • Tom Menino was responsible for making Boston a post-racial love fest. (St. Thomas of Dudley Square, pray for us.)

Seriously, I know these guys had to fill dead air time – there’s only so much you can say when you watching a line of thousands snake their way through a howling Nor’easter into the doors of Faneuil Hall to attend someone’s wake – but if you even half-listened to these announcers, you could easily have come away with the impression that pre-Menino Boston was an archipelago of wattle and daub hut encampments. Each encampment was populated by a singular tribe, who mostly stuck to themselves, leaving only for forays to Filene’s Basement and, of course, to hurl beer bottles (empties) at each other.

Come on, people.

Harvard University was here (actually in Cambridge) before Menino was mayor.

Mass General was here before Menino was mayor.

The Whitehead Institute for bio-medical research was here (actually in Cambridge) before Menino was mayor.

It was possible to eat outside before Menino was mayor.

Boston, because of its age – ancient by U.S. standards – has pretty much always punched above its weight. We’re a relatively small city that most people have heard of, we have a lot of good schools and hospitals, and we get a lot of tourists.

As for post-racial paradise?

Well, things are certainly better (or so it seems to me) than they were when busing came to town in the 1970’s. But do all the laurels go to Tom Menino?

Which is not to say that he doesn’t to have touched a lot of people in ways that his predecessor Ray Flynn may not have. One poll taken a couple of years back showed that 50% of the people in the city had met Tom Menino at one point or another.

Okay. We’re tiny town -  650K population – so it wasn’t exactly like doing a meet and greet with everyone in New York City.

Still, it’s pretty impressive when you do the arithmetic. It averages out to meeting and greeting 32,500 people a year while he was in office. That’s a lot of handshaking. (I met him a couple of times. We both went to PT at the same place.)

And Tom Menino was certainly a lot warmer and more approachable than Kevin White, Ray Flynn’s brooding and aloof predecessor.

But enough with the All Hail, Thomas Menino already.

Anyway, what really sent me over the edge was an article that appeared on on the day of his funeral – and, yes, I did stand outside my house when the cortege drove by, and I did watch a bit of the funeral itself – that read “Tom Menino Sounds Like the Greatest Grandfather Ever.”

I don’t have kids, and, ergo, have no grandkids. And since one of my grandfathers died when I was 1, and the other died 25 years before I was born, I am no one’s idea of an expert on grandfathers.

And, yes, I’m sure that Menino’s grandkids loved him.

But, honestly, the folks I know who are granddads think they’re pretty darned good at it. And the folks I know who have granddads think that their granddads are just swell.

I wasn’t going to say anything, but this one just sent me right over the top.

So I’ll close with one of Mayor Menino’s favorite expressions: Gimme a break!

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