Mayor Thomas M. Menino outlined the most significant challenges facing his successor as he delivered the final major speech Tuesday of his twenty year reign at Boston City Hall.
In an address laced with self-deprecating humor, Menino trumpeted five-terms worth of accomplishments, talked about the transition to Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh, and offered his assessment of the trials ahead.
“I won’t be hanging around to critique his work. The job is hard enough already,” Menino told several hundred business leaders at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast at The Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel. “Even with the city poised to achieve great new heights, I see three great changes that will make the task of leading especially tough.”
The dramatic decline in money from the federal government will force two key parts of Boston’s economy—non-profits and the research sector—to re-invent their operating models, Menino said. At the same time, the growing increase in income inequality is creating a larger gap between rich and poor.
And lastly, Menino said changes to higher education could threaten the “pillar of Boston’s economy” that appeals to businesses and visitors. The rising cost of college has put it out of reach for more people, Menino said, and technology is making it easier to access education in other ways.
Despite the looming challenges, Menino was bullish on the city’s future and the prospects of Walsh’s fledging administration. A changing of the guard at City Hall is part of the vital continuum of urban life.
“Change makes cities, and great change makes great cities,” Menino said. “I believe we are on the cusp of more great change. I have faith in Marty Walsh.”
Menino began the address with a nod to the next chapter in his life, which will be at Boston University. He will be a professor helping to launch a new Institute on Cities, where mayors and municipal managers from across the globe can share ideas as they tackle urban issues.
“The next time I give a big speech like this, it will probably be in a lecture hall,” Menino said. “You are welcome to come, but I am a very tough grader. Professor Menino. Think about that for a second.”