Almost everyone involved in the 2009 mayoral elections knows that the person to beat in this race is Boston’s longest-serving mayor Thomas Menino.
‘He is going to come in first in this preliminary,’ challenger City Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon said in an interview with The Daily Free Press. ‘The question is who comes in second.’
Yoon and the other candidates, businessman Kevin McCrea and City Councilor-At-Large Michael Flaherty, have good reason to be wary of Menino’s hold on the city. Besides being the face of Boston for 16 years, Menino has already received official endorsements from three nonprofits, four wards and four unions. As the Sept. 22 preliminary elections draw closer, Menino’s campaign signs continue to hang in windows stretching from Chinatown to West Roxbury.
‘The mayor prides himself as someone who is out in the neighborhoods and is accessible to people,’ Menino campaign spokesman Nick Martin said. ‘He’s a mayor that’s from the city and knows the city very well.’
At 66 years old, Menino, who did not meet with The Daily Free Press for an interview, stands as the oldest candidate in the race. Nearly a quarter of a century older than the other candidates, he entered office when most of Boston’s newest voters were learning to read and write.
‘Our mayor’s almost been mayor half my life,’ Flaherty said in an interview with The Daily Free Press. ‘I’m 40. The fact of the matter is you have someone that’s been there so long it’s all about him and that’s never a good and healthy thing.’
With President Barack Obama’s recent ascension into the White House, the theme of change has made its way into Boston’s mayoral race. Yoon runs to become Boston’s first Asian-American mayor, McCrea runs as the anti-politician and all the challengers call for an end to 16 years of the same mayor.
However, Martin said Menino has always run a progressive administration. Under Menino, Boston became one of the first cities in the nation to require buildings to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, a green rating system developed by the United States Green Building Council.
Menino said before the Roxbury MassVote forum on Sept. 3 that his ‘progressive administration’ extends to college students.
‘I work hard with college kids in Boston to make a better life,’ Menino said. ‘I created the One in 3 organization to help young people ages 20 to 34 get involved in our streets. We want to get college students involved.’
The One in 3 organization connects ‘Boston’s young adults’ with the city’s resources to entice college students to stay in Boston after graduation.
‘The mayor always emphasizes that one of the city’s biggest assets is its college and universities,’ Martin said. ‘We have a lot more brainpower than a lot of cities, and one of the important things is not just students coming to the city to study but to stay.’
But Menino’s support of legislation such as the ‘No More Than Four’ ordinance may deter college students from supporting him.
‘What the mayor’s concern is he wants to see a city that works for everyone, both college students and both residents that live in the city,’ Martin said. ‘In the case of schools like BU and BC that have greatly expanded over the years, he wants to see the neighborhoods as preserved as possible.
‘He’s been a big advocate of student housing on campus, so that students would be guaranteed the opportunity to have housing without leaving campus,’ he said.
Menino’s support of the PILOT Task Force, a group meant to investigate the fairness of the Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes systems that nonprofits, such as universities like Boston University, take part in, is an indicator of the mayor’s commitment to improving the system, Martin said.
Throughout his campaign, Menino faced many accusations of corruption. Just recently, ‘improperly deleted’ City Hall emails raised questions of cover-ups and government transparency.’
‘We’re made aware of the problem, actually a few months ago in May,’ Martin said. ‘As soon as we found out, he instituted a $1 million e-discovery system.’
McCrea has been the strongest in his accusations of corruption.
‘I won’t call Menino corrupt,’ McCrea said in an interview with The Daily Free Press. ‘I think City Hall is corrupt.’
‘Kevin McCrea sort of backed off those accusations of corruption,’ Martin said. ‘When pushed about what those corruptions led to, he mentioned a few land property sales. He’s being a little fast and loose with the corruption allegations.’
Menino has also received criticism for his stance on the Biosafety Level-4 laboratory, which he supported from the start.
‘The mayor supported the biolab because in his eyes, Boston is moving towards a science-based economy,’ Martin said. ‘At the same time, he sees concerns of the residents in being as safe as possible. He wouldn’t let that go forward with live biological agents without proper testing.’
Despite Menino’s long tenure, there are still ‘a lot of priorities he thinks are important,’ Martin said.
‘He’s guided the city in good times and bad, and there’s a lot of progress that we’ve made,’ Martin said. ‘This election isn’t so much about where we are, it’s about where we’re going.’