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Menino for Mayor

FEW OF the big-city mayors who oversaw the urban renaissance of the 1990s remain in office, a function mostly of term limits. Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino faces no such restraint, and he shows no sign of seeking a graceful exit. On Nov. 8, Boston voters must decide, then, whether they want to offer Menino a fourth term or break his grip on City Hall.

Boston is ready for the emergence of a new, bold administration able to obliterate the achievement gap between white and minority students, compel the Legislature to provide higher levels of state aid, transform how the city manages its municipal workforce, and attack crime both on the surface and at its roots. The Menino administration is vulnerable to serious challenge on these and other key issues.

But mayoral challenger Maura Hennigan, a longtime city councilor, has not made a strong enough case that she could be that visionary reformer. Absent such a candidate, the methodical Menino remains the right choice for leading Boston forward, albeit at a gradual pace. The Globe endorses Thomas Menino for reelection, with the hope that his administration finds new sources of energy.

Avoiding the blahs

Backsliding is inevitable in any mayoral administration that is not prepared to push reforms on all fronts simultaneously. Such measures are life or death for cities on the verge of fiscal collapse. But even healthy cities like Boston need a mayor who is prepared to shake up city departments and demand cost savings from municipal unions. Otherwise stagnation sets in. It happened in the last years of both the Kevin White and Ray Flynn administrations, and it is the one charge that has stuck, with cause, to Menino throughout the campaign.

Menino often points out how declines in federal and state funding have weakened the city. He has proposed sound methods to increase local revenues, including closing tax loopholes for telecommunication companies and implementing a local tax on meals in order to reduce the burden on residential property owners. But he has failed repeatedly to persuade the state Legislature to approve such measures.

Dialing for dollars

Menino can't blame this standstill solely on the suburbs, one of his favorite targets. Both Senate President Robert Travaglini and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi live in Boston and represent the city. Menino should be pressuring legislative leaders more effectively, forcing them to see that cities and towns need higher levels of state aid and greater freedom to control their own finances. If voters give the mayor a fourth term, they should demand that he use his political clout to maximum effect.

Menino has paid too dearly for the city's municipal labor contracts, especially for the police. The mayor and his labor negotiators cannot allow themselves to be hustled again by labor unions whose salaries, pensions, and healthcare costs are devouring any growth in revenue. Fourth-term mayors should not be making rookie mistakes at the collective bargaining table.

Remembering the basics

Menino needs to reinvigorate or replace top managers as well. Street cleaning, road and sidewalk repair, maintenance, and other public works functions were once the strength of the Menino administration. No longer. Menino often calls for fresh ideas at his Cabinet meetings. But there is little evidence that he is hearing much in return.

Menino's refrain throughout the campaign has been, ''We're not there yet," a signal that he can accomplish great things for Boston if given sufficient time. But he needs to quicken the pace. High rates of unsolved homicides are destroying neighborhood morale and making witnesses reluctant to step forward. Inability to close the academic achievement gap is prompting calls for dismantling the appointed school board, which would only serve to elevate politics above sound educational policies.

Home for whom?

Despite many classroom improvements, the erratic quality of Boston's schools is still driving out families that might otherwise make long-term investments in the city. Menino's fourth term would be a failure if Boston became home mainly to empty-nesters, singles, private school families, and the very poor who inhabit public housing.

Hennigan is conducting a gutsy campaign. But she does not offer convincing solutions to the city's greatest challenges. She favors the dissolution of the appointed school board and thinks that labor challenges will be resolved somehow if communication with union leaders could only be improved.

Menino has a realistic idea of the job ahead. The city's creditworthiness is excellent, a tribute to his fiscal management team. Unlike some big-city mayors, Menino recognized early on the importance of biotech firms to the city's future, and he is determined not to let them escape to the suburbs.

His vision of development on the South Boston Waterfront includes the possibility of a university-affiliated use, possibly even a graduate school. The area needs more than just condos and hotels. And his commitment to affordable housing has never wavered in 12 years. If successful at the polls, he intends to concentrate on the construction of affordable homes with three or more bedrooms to accommodate larger families.

Menino wants another term, and he merits it. But even in historic Boston, there is no resting on past glory.

 SPECIAL SECTION: Menino's record
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