Mayor’s top aide in center of storm

Kineavy is called a trusted enforcer

By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / September 20, 2009

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Michael J. Kineavy comes straight from central casting for a set-in-Southie drama. With his soothing voice and piercing eyes, his tough life story, and his immaculate suits, he could be the rainmaker or the bartender, the street tough or the security guard, the football standout or high school dropout.

He has, in fact, played each of those roles, but for the past 16 years, he has been a mere supporting player by the side of side of Mayor Thomas M. Menino. Now, on the eve of the mayor’s bid for an unprecedented fifth term, Kineavy finds himself in the spotlight for a controversy of his own making - his routine deletion of e-mails. Kineavy, who worked his way to the top of the mighty Menino machine much as he worked his way from a GED through a master’s, is not one to shrink in the glare of controversy.

“He was defined by his intensity,’’ said Jay Hurley, who grew up with Kineavy in South Boston and is now president of the Ironworkers District Council New England. “He’s not a big guy. He wasn’t particularly fast. But if you played sports against him, you wouldn’t want to be on the other team. You would always want him on your team. He’d never give up.’’

The people on Menino’s team express a genuine fondness for Kineavy, describing him as a true public servant who works tirelessly for the city and spends his scant personal time competing in charitable athletic events. A man of extremes, he not only got into bicycling but began competing in triathlons and raising thousands of dollars in endurance rides for causes such as HIV research and New York police and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

“He takes on everything with a passion,’’ said Dot Joyce, Menino’s spokeswoman. “Everything that he’s going to involve himself with, he does so passionately.’’

Those who have strayed from Menino’s team - or backed other candidates - view Kineavy through a different lens. He plays the role of the mayor’s top enforcer, quick to threaten critics with exile from the good graces of the mighty Menino machine.

For those reasons, perceived foes are reticent to speak of his sometimes blunt ways. Collectively, though, they describe a fiercely loyal lieutenant who has the complete trust of the man he serves.

“I don’t doubt that Michael literally would take a bullet for Tom Menino,’’ said someone who has been a friend of both Kineavy and Menino challenger Michael Flaherty Jr., and who asked not to be identified.

Every political administration has an enforcer and some of Kineavy’s fans say his predecessors may have been even tougher.

“There has to be a Michael Kineavy in every administration,’’ said onetime city councilor Michael McCormack, who considers Kineavy a friend. “I’ve never seen the dark side of Mike Kineavy.’’

Then he added, “Perhaps others have.’’

McCormack pointed to the hardball played by former mayor Ray Flynn’s aides Joe Fisher and Ray Dooley when they pressed councilors over Flynn’s rent control agenda. “You couldn’t pick up a phone. You couldn’t go outside your office. They were standing right there giving you the look,’’ said McCormack.

The difference, he and others acknowledge, is that in Kineavy’s dual roles as the mayor’s chief policy adviser, as well as one of his top campaign organizers, he is intimate with both the guts of City Hall and the voting patterns of every ward of the city. Kineavy has run the get-out-the-vote effort for Menino - and for other candidates who win the Menino machine’s help in city elections - since Menino first ran for mayor in 1993.

“I don’t recall as much power being vested in one person - that is with policy and election results,’’ McCormack said.

Kineavy, 54, is a bachelor who still lives in South Boston and knows the streets because he grew up on them. The son of a police officer, he was the oldest of five children who helped care for his siblings after his parents split up. He hung out on the corner of O and East Fourth, and, like many of his generation and upbringing, he didn’t expect great things, recalled Hurley.

Kineavy distinguished himself in football but dropped out of high school. He worked briefly as an ironworker, then as a Massachusetts Port Authority security guard.

For a time, he tended bar at Triple O’s, the hangout of South Boston gangster James “Whitey’’ Bulger, Hurley acknowledged. He could have taken a very different turn in his life.

“We all could have,’’ said Hurley. “If you follow all these stories about Southie, we lived in the epicenter of where all the [gang] activity took place.’’

Kineavy went back to school and ultimately got a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Massachusetts. Since then, Kineavy has set about helping people who had similarly “made poor choices when they were younger and have committed to turning their lives around,’’ Joyce said.

“In the recovery community, he’s one of those people who really cares about individuals and is out there every day making a difference,’’ Menino said in a phone interview Friday. “Wherever they need Michael Kineavy, he’s been there. I can’t say enough about the guy who has dedicated a lot of his life to that community.’’

For a time, Kineavy ran for the city’s Employee Assistance Program, helping employees weather tough times or battle addictions in their own lives. He held a dual role leading the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services, the pivotal city department that handles constituent services and complaints. And, as such, he also tightened his oversight of the city whose wards he knows so well.

“I look to him as the guy who brings people together and tries to resolve the issues,’’ Menino said. “Michael is one of my eyes and ears in the community.’’

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at