It was unintended symbolism: Mayor
Thomas Menino speaking at the Greater Boston Chamber of
Commerce's Annual Meeting - not from the stage where
other powerful dignitaries addressed the 1,500 attendees, but from
the floor of the Convention Center hall, visible because his image
was fed onto giant screens looming above the crowd.
"If you see anybody out there being negative about Boston, step
on them," Menino urged the leaders of the city's most influential
businesses and institutions.
In that moment, two decades of Boston's political past crystallized. Here was
the quintessential "strong mayor," the self-styled urban mechanic
who had firmly grasped the city's levers of power and imagery since
1993, unapologetically preaching defiant optimism despite being
forced to step down from the spotlight.
Just 12 hours earlier, four leading journalists had debated the
positives - and the negatives - that will shape the future of Boston at a panel discussion hosted
by Solomon McCown & Company and
attended by nearly 150.
With the city preparing to elect only its fourth mayor in 45
years, the SM& Presents event surfaced concerns ranging from
leadership styles and Boston's vanishing middle class to the
chronic challenges affecting planning, mass transit and public
"Given time, dedication and opportunity, a mayor can have a
profound impact on the fabric of city," said Meghna Chakrabarti, co-host of WBUR's
Radio Boston, who praised Menino's impact on commercial
But Chakrabarti also wondered aloud whether "a city can outgrow
its mayor" and whether the next mayor might do more to position
Boston as "a world-class city."
Referring to a 2012 study by the Boston
Indicators Project depicting the widening income gap that
parallels the loss of manufacturing jobs, Paul McMorrow, associate editor of CommonWealth magazine, expressed
concern that Boston could come to resemble "ancient Rome" - a city
of "the wealthy, the not wealthy and no one in between."
McMorrow pinpointed public education as "the big lever a mayor
can pull" to recruit and retain a new generation of middle class
NECN Business Editor Peter Howe lauded Menino's unique ability to
"make people feel good about themselves" and said the biggest
challenge for the next mayor may be to "not screw up" the positive
momentum the city seems to have achieved.
But Howe also complained about the chronic inability of mass
transit to work efficiently on behalf of residents in the city's
working class and minority neighborhoods.
"MBTA riders are the most shockingly under-utilized political
force in the state," he said, calling for a concerted effort to
"rebuild trust" in the MBTA by solving basic service problems and rooting out
perceived waste and favoritism.
With a new school superintendent and a new student
assignment plan looming on the city's horizon, Boston
Globe columnist Joanna Weiss said, "Reforming education will
require a big vision from the next mayor."
Good urban schools are integral to the growth and vitality of
strong neighborhood communities, argued Weiss, who also spoke
passionately about the need to address several emerging public health issues among young
women in the city's poorer neighborhoods.
"It's striking to me that Mayor Menino has not hand-picked or
groomed anyone to continue his legacy," she added. "It will be left
to the public to winnow through this vast group of candidates... and they could
pick someone very different."
By Ed Cafasso,
Senior Vice President at Solomon McCown &