My years of working with, for, and even against Tom Menino go back four decades, to the days when we would huddle on Sunday nights in a small East Boston room to work out campaign strategy for then-mayoral candidate Joe Timilty. In later years we found ourselves serving together on the Boston City Council, and even briefly running against each other for mayor. I remain convinced that one of his secrets to his success is that he always considered the city of Boston to be his extended family.
What is it about his approach that makes the analogy work? For one, just try to say something bad about Boston, his city, in front of him. He can be critical of the city, but, like a member of a family, he won’t stand for anyone else doing so.
Much is made of how Menino can be gruff, or how he yells at people with whom he's unhappy. I never understood this concern, perhaps because I have seen it from an upfront and close perspective.
We’ve all gotten angry or raised our voices with our kids. Why? It’s because we love them and disagree with what they’re doing. It was always clear to me that if Tom Menino cared about you, he would occasionally get angry with you. Over the years, it has happened to a lot of us, but I never felt it was mean or personal, but rather, it reminded me that, as a Bostonian, I was a small part of what he considered his extended family.
There’s no escaping your family. Whether you find yourself in the same house or not, they belong to you and you to them. Similarly, whether Tom Menino is in City Hall or not, he belongs to Boston and Boston belongs to him. It is this simple fact that makes him, in my humble opinion, Boston’s greatest mayor.
Come January, when he leaves the building, he’ll never be very far away, and will still have much to contribute to us all. Here’s hoping he still occasionally picks up the phone to yell at me for a long time to come!
John A. Nucci is a former Boston City Councilor at-large, former Boston School Committee president, former clerk-magistrate of Suffolk County Superior Court, and currently serves as vice president for government and community affairs at Suffolk University.